Climate Science Glossary

Term Lookup

Enter a term in the search box to find its definition.

Settings

Use the controls in the far right panel to increase or decrease the number of terms automatically displayed (or to completely turn that feature off).

Term Lookup

Settings


All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

Home Arguments Software Resources Comments The Consensus Project Translations About Support

Twitter Facebook YouTube Pinterest MeWe

RSS Posts RSS Comments Email Subscribe


Climate's changed before
It's the sun
It's not bad
There is no consensus
It's cooling
Models are unreliable
Temp record is unreliable
Animals and plants can adapt
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
View All Arguments...



Username
Password
New? Register here
Forgot your password?

Latest Posts

Archives

The nature of authority

Posted on 23 July 2010 by gpwayne

Guest post by Graham Wayne

In a recent post, John Cook wrote:

"When it comes to complex science, whether it be climate science or heart surgery or how a plane manages to stay up in the air, we defer to the experts who do this stuff for a living. Why? Because they know every nook and cranny of their area of expertise.

Well, I think there is another reason why we should defer to the experts, but we have to be clear about what that deference entails, for words can be misleading. Sometimes, the dual nature of a word leads us to confuse one thing with another. Consider the word authority, for example.

I started out as a musician. I remember meeting plenty of older players, and they would tell me things from time to time. They didn’t equivocate, nor did they leave any room for doubt in the way they put things. Frankly, they sounded just like my dad, and equally certain. Since he was usually wrong, I assumed these musicians were simply as dogmatic as my old man, and probably talking as much bollocks as he did. ‘Don’t tell me what to do’ I would say, mostly to myself. As far as I was concerned, what they knew was like what my father thought he knew – assumptions, dogma, convention. What right did they have to insist certain things were a particular way, and had to be? I was young, ready to rebel, to change things. The world didn’t have to be like they said, like my father said. I could reshape the world in my own image. I acknowledged no authority but my own, and anyone who told me what to do or how to do it could sod off.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m talking to some young musician, and I have that self-conscious experience of listening to myself, and what I’m saying. And bugger me if I don’t sound just like them, just like my dad. What on earth has happened? How did I become so bloody sure of myself?

The answer is that I did the work. In those intervening years, I paid my dues (rather over-paid, I suspect, due to a certain intransigence). I gained experience, I practiced, I learned from mistakes, I worked hard, and with each passing year my knowledge was improved by my education. Out of these experiences, I gained something unexpected: authority over the subject matter I had spent so much time studying. There are rules, and you cannot break them except at your cost (and the cost of your audience). These standards must be met, else you are doomed to be second-rate.

There are, it turns out, inviolable precepts. If you aspire to excellence and consistency, you are obliged to both acknowledge and obey the precepts that apply. Those who think they can get away with it, take a shortcut, cheat a little here and there; they always discover the same thing – exactly as I did. You can’t fool your audience, not for a minute, and it is equally hard to fool yourself. The work must be done and the dues paid, no matter what discipline you seek to acquire or what reasons you have for doing so. Success is built on the foundations of discipline and experience; once you have these attributes, there is nothing that can undermine them because you know they are not arbitrary, they are not personal. I know now, from discussion and experience, that all the people I admire have learned the same thing, and applied that knowledge uncompromisingly. They respect the rules of engagement and obey them, because they are not optional and you ignore them at your great peril.

So, in this personal example, we can use a synonym for authority: we can call it mastery. In art, in science, in business; in any sphere, if you do the work – all of it – and do it diligently, you gain mastery over your subject. Consequently, when I speak about playing or performing, I am not equivocal – I’m telling it like it is. I’ve had students who argued with me, but they lost every argument, because I had paid dear for my knowledge, as did all my peers, and what I gained was a profound certainty in that which I can be certain about, because this kind of authority is tested under fire - every single time we enter the fray. Since what I learned never let me down – not ever – it becomes more than a theory (and when I ignored the rules, I always got my arse kicked). It becomes like the rules of physics, unbending and subject to no negotiation whatever. When I talk about the knowledge I have gained from such effort and discipline, I may end up sounding like my dad, but it turns out he knew a thing or two after all.

***

The other kind of authority is the kind that children resent when they are told to go to bed or wash behind their ears. It is the arbitrary authority of those bigger than us, stronger than us, richer than us, more powerful than us. Teachers deploy this authority. So do bosses, policemen, higher ranks in military establishments; anyone whose position in the pecking order gives them the notion they have the right to tell us what to do. Sometimes, we work for a boss who is smart, so perhaps we don’t mind him or her telling us what to do (and the wages generally provide sufficient leverage to mute our dissent).

What we resent is the arbitrary notion that underlies this authority. Who are these people? How do they assume they are somehow better than us, when they offer nothing more than a bribe or a cuff round the ear? That isn’t authority, it is bullying. Isn’t it? Taking advantage, in other words; getting us to comply with their wishes whether we like it or not, making us do what they want just because they say so. Just like scientists and their bloody climate change theories, right? Who gave them the authority to tell us what to do?

Well, nobody gave them authority. They earned it, and it isn’t authority over us, it is authority over their subject matter. Scientists have to struggle up a learning curve so steep it is beyond the comprehension of most lay people. To start with – before they can lay a hand on a test tube or a microscope – they must learn everything that has gone before. This can take a decade or more, and the rewards are not only paltry, but often unreliable, since many will not ever make the grade or the salary commensurate with all that work they put in.

After what we might call a very long spell in boot camp, after they have negotiated the training courses comprising several centuries of highly detailed work; only then may the fledgling scientist stand upright on the shoulders of the giants who preceded them, and take a look around them. Only then may they start to work on a theory of their own, or collaborate with others whose theories merit investigation. Even to call yourself a research scientist, it is necessary to gain that mastery, that authority, that uncompromising discipline that is defined by the scientific method. And some of these scientists are studying climate change.

————————–

Scientific authority should not be confused with the authority of parents, or teachers, bosses or politicians. I am constantly amazed at the way lay people dispute science, by attributing to it some arbitrary notion of authority. When all other forms of authority seem to be arbitrary, perhaps it is understandable that, when science speaks with an authoritative voice, it seems equally subjective or capricious. When hierarchical authority is exercised in the pursuit of an agenda – political, legal, caring, educative or whatever – its aims may be equivocal, self-serving or arbitrary, where a different aim or agenda would be equally valid.

Science isn’t like that: it tests what it find ruthlessly and repeatedly, for there is only one right answer to any scientific problem, only one theory that is wholly correct. It is often overlooked that scientists cannot afford to promote myths, or self-serving results. Scientific knowledge is a hierarchy too, where the last paper on a subject becomes part of the next paper, through the process of citation. Nobody wants to do all the work all over again – reinventing the wheel – so all scientists have a vested interest in making sure all the work that is incorporated into the body of science is scrupulously accurate and solid, because they may well base their next research project on the same work, the same given, the same method. Bad science puts all scientists at risk, which is one reason why all scientists are so keen to root it out.

When science speaks with authority, we should respect it, not resent it. And we should not be afraid to accept that there are people who are smarter than we are. One common tone I find in discussions about science is generated by a strange notion of equality, a rather topical political trope where all people are rendered so damn equal there isn’t any individuality left. There are a lot of people smarter than me, and it does not demean me to recognize this, or acknowledge them and their achievements. Of all the branches of human endeavor, science is one of the most intellectually demanding and difficult. What these people do astounds and humbles me. That they are cleverer than me at science does not make me less important as a human being. It does remind me that self-importance is a vice we can ill afford, especially when we try to ignore those who speak with genuine authority.

Check out more Graham Wayne action at gpwayne.wordpress.com.

0 0

Printable Version  |  Link to this page

Comments

Prev  1  2  3  4  Next

Comments 51 to 100 out of 170:

  1. #9 Humanity Rules One could argue Steve McIntyre or even Monckton has been researching and banging on about their respective climate science interests that they have developed some level of expertise. Yes, one could argue that. The problem is, a lot of "skeptics" are quick to grant McIntyre and Monckton this expertise, while ignoring or insulting the expertise of thousands of scientists who've studied longer and worked harder, and -- most important -- are able to provide proof that McIntyre or Monckton have made basic errors. Because they haven't gone down a formal academic process does not necessarily invalidate that experience. Is No, it doesn't. But you know what does invalidate that experience? Being consistently wrong. There's a real world out there, and we can check certain kinds of theories and claims against it, and get a pretty good idea of which ones are closer to the truth. That's where McIntyre and Monckton fail, and the debate about their relative "expertise" is simply a faux-populist distraction from that basic fact. Ultimately, the proof that Monckton and McIntyre don't have the proper credentials is the fact that they consistently use the wrong methods and get the wrong results. You don't get to have it both ways. You don't get to claim that climate "expertise" is worthy of respect when Monckton sucks it up osmotically in his spare time, and then call it "groupthink" when it's earned in the traditional way. Maybe this point will be clearer to you if we get away from AGW for a moment. I don't think the AIDS/common cold/MS cure that Monckton's been working on is going to work. He's not a doctor or a virologist or anythig along those lines, and the chance that he's going to hit on a miracle cure for multiple diseases strikes me as vanishingly slim. I'm sure he'd claim to have developed some homegrown "expertise" on this subject, too, but what snake-oil salesman doesn't? It's possible that he's going to revolutionize modern medicine, just as it's possible that I'm going to be crowned Pope next year. But sensible people will bet the farm against it.
    0 0
  2. To NickD "Do you have extraordinary evidence which backs up your assertion that global skepticism amongst laypersons became an "avalanche" after the molehills you cited?" When I do get the chance to bore the uninitiated (i.e., "normal people") about AGW theory, they may not understand or remember any of the details, but what they do seem to know all about is an exaggerated version of Climategate, a molehill which seems to have stuck like mud.
    0 0
  3. @ RSVP at 03:30 AM on 24 July, 2010 I'll take that as a "no" to my asking for "extraordinary evidence" for your hyperbolic claim. You simply have personal anecdotes. Thank you for your response.
    0 0
  4. johnd - cloud feedback, both as albedo changes and as additional IR entrapment (negative and positive feedback, respectively), is certainly an interesting issue. However, the discussions I've seen indicate that this cloud variability is fairly small - I believe the Lindzen and Choi paper has been shown to have serious analytic issues, and the cosmic ray/clouds hypothesis is junk, as it doesn't match temperature trends. I will point out, however, that if clouds greatly affected outgoing long wave radiation (LWR), that would show up directly in the top of atmosphere (TOA) readings as variability of readings for ground referenced points over time, as cloud cover changed. That would be a fairly straightforward analysis, and quite definitive - I haven't seen any papers on it yet, though. Anyone else? Have there been papers on this topic, of cloud induced variability in TOA outgoing energy? I greatly suspect, however, that given the majority of LWR is emitted from the top of the troposphere and stratosphere that the cloud variability mostly affects distributions in the lower troposphere, with the results averaging out and not affecting TOA radiation levels and hence the radiative balance. In order for clouds to have a trend effect, there would have to be a change in total cloud cover. There are papers on that, albeit many from Lindzen. There's an interesting paper by Warren et al, 1988, describing sea cloud coverage in the period 1952-1995, indicating observed small changes (+0.7% 1952-1981) in total coverage, although probably tied to low observation counts and poor geographic coverage in the earlier years (esp. WWII). They seem to conclude that any yearly trends are issues with the data, not real phenomena. There's a previous atlas showing land data - I haven't been able to find a link to that yet. So - no real evidence for cloud change trends there.
    0 0
  5. shawnhet writes: Basically, we have one easy way to tell whether someone is an expert in science and when someone isn't: whether they can make a risky prediction that turns out to be true. Actually, that's not a particularly reliable test either. Experts can and do make mistakes, and an incompetent amateur can make a prediction that happens to turn out correctly despite being based on entirely wrong reasoning. I doubt there's any single test for expertise, though there are a bunch of different possible indicators.
    0 0
  6. KR at 03:36 AM, clouds have been determined as having an overall nett cooling effect. The problem with working them into modeling is that there is no historic data or ways to reconstruct proxy data. Early observations are obviously limited, and reliable satellite data only available for the last couple of decades, barely enough to establish trends, however enough to show a reasonably large degree of variation. But there is still that indecision as to whether temperature is a function of clouds or clouds a function of temperature.
    0 0
  7. johnd - I agree that historic cloud data is limited. That's why I was delighted to find the Warren et al 1988 paper covering 1952-1981 (my typo about coverage dates in the previous post - sorry). No trend was found. Note that this was ocean data - I haven't located the previous land cloud cover data yet. But the ocean data should have much lower variability and more clearly indicate a trend if one existed. If clouds were a function of temperature, or temperature a function of clouds, I would expect some correlation. The data doesn't seem to support either hypothesis.
    0 0
  8. chriscanaris, @39 Like yourself, I am an admirer of Gould's writing, and his efforts to gain recognition for figures who were once admired but now derided as "losers in the game". An example was Georges Cuvier, the great pre-Darwinian biologist who explained the variety of species by periodic catastrophes destroying somes species. Gould defended Cuvier's theory as "good science" in his day, pointing out how the extinction of dinosaurs by the famous KT-boundary comet collision means that Cuvier was not entirely wrong. But where does that get us? A dollop of sympathy for Richard Lindzen or Roy Spencer because they may be partially right? Darwin spent his life after the publication of Origin of Species watering down his theory in subsequent editions to satisfy or placate various critics. But we know now that he was most correct in the first edition. My own feeling is that Hulme and people like Judy Curry are not really helping. There are some issues over which no compromise is possible. The question is "Who speaks for science?", or "Who has scientific authority?". I think we know which group is not the answer to either question.
    0 0
  9. Pete Ridley, your poinst would make sense if they were true. But they are not. How do you refute Hansen's 1988 work - still accurate after 22 years (and of course models now are much more sophisticated and while they have not stood the test of time, given that they stand on the shoulders of Hansen's early work, only a crank would claim they will do less well.
    0 0
  10. Can someone without a doctorate in climate science make a valid point, make a valid observation? Can someone with a doctorate in climate science make a mistake? Someone with such a specialized edjucation is obviously very knowledgable on the subject BUT it doesn't make them correct, especially when the subject is as complex as this topic. In an acedemic setting, Yes ,one would accept that the "expert" was correct BUT when the Modern Era itself is about to be sacrificed to appease Gaia,then THEY must prove their theory beyond all doubt to us "normal folks" who will pay for it and have to live with it. THEY may be correct in defining the problem, BUT are they right with the solution for the problem? Considering the solution would require political and economical changes to the world that cannot be fully known and may require require us to get rid of the finest acheivement of Mankind...Democracy. I personaly would rather see the world burn (or drown) than see a mass backslide to Tyrany and/or Oligarchy (even benign ones). When in the History of Science has a Theory demanded that the political and economic foundations of the world be overturned and rebuilt into unknown , untested models? Don't expect us normal folk to suspend disbelief because you brushed against the walls of an institution of higher learning. If you are right , the future is going to be very bleak, even if we do heed your advice. I realy do hope the AGW crowd regroups and reestablishes their credibility to the masses. As Much as I want you proven wrong, I want it only if you are wrong.
    0 0
  11. Ned #50, I mistyped there. I meant to say that expertise in science is related to how many predictions you can get right. As you say, a guy on the street could guess right once or twice,but he could not without some understanding of the system consistently guess right. Cheers, :)
    0 0
  12. Oops, the above was a response to post#55 not #50.
    0 0
  13. "the political and economic foundations of the world be overturned and rebuilt into unknown , untested models?" If I had a penny for every time I saw that strawman... The problem with credibility to the masses is that it is a matter of manipulation by the people who specialze in mass mind manipulation. As for this: "I personaly would rather see the world burn (or drown) than see a mass backslide to Tyrany and/or Oligarchy (even benign ones)." I don't see how you could convince me that these are the only alternatives. Considering how bleak the choices are, perhaps you could also examine a little closer why you believe that and where it comes from.
    0 0
  14. Theodwulf - When in the History of Science has a Theory demanded that the political and economic foundations of the world be overturned and rebuilt into unknown, untested models? - Disease control: plague in London requiring reworking entire water system. - Microbe theory of disease: All of medicine changed there, all of sanitation practices. - Fish depletion leading to major limitations on catch and seasons, major industries. - Air pollution: In the US this meant the Clean Air Act, EPA, major major industrial effects. - Ozone layer: Banning of CFC's. - DDT and other pesticides: Reworking of pest control, complete re-do on malarial prevention. Note that people and groups (in the US) opposing climate change science (Heritage Institute, lots of others) have also opposed the dangers of acid rain, smoking, second-hand smoke, dangers of DDT, any and all EPA regulations/Clean Air Act, etc. That includes Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, and S. Fred Singer, among others. If they were active when the microbe theory of disease was being discovered I suspect they would have taken contributions from hospitals and opposed that. They have a lousy track record for scientific accuracy and honesty.
    0 0
  15. Theodwulf we're currently spending something like 4% of global GDP on what for most of us are imaginary harms, possibilities we all agree and fervently hope are only remotely probable. The fact that we spend $6 trillion dollars per year on insurance premiums which only function effectively if most of us never make claims has not threatened democracy and has not brought our industrial society to its knees. Meanwhile, something like 2% of global GDP spent on a shift from fossil fuel dependency will not only purchase insurance against a substantial risk from climate change but will also ensure that our industrial society will continue to function after our fossil fuel endowment is depleted, an inevitable outcome that will only become more difficult to address the longer we procrastinate. If you're curious to see the gains of the past few thousands years erased for most of us in a dramatic and ugly way, simply avoid spending money to foster substitutes now, instead wait for fossil fuels to be exhausted. Short of concerted effort, that inflection point is fast approaching; China, India and other countries are not going to put their development plans on hold, after all, so we'll be treated first to a bitter struggle for fossil fuel resources and then a collapse of the world order as it now stands. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
    0 0
  16. My apologies, the previous post should have referred to the Heritage Foundation, not Institute. As well as the Science & Environmental Policy Project, the European Academy for Environmental Affairs (where G. Gerlich was a member), George C. Marshall Institute, etc.
    0 0
  17. Ken Lambert #40 "I wonder what happened to the robust blockbuster arguments about the real effect of CO2, water vapour, aerosols, TSI, TOA, OHC, SLR, energy balance etc??" These are hardly blockbusters, although isolated areas of uncertainty are definately there. However, the convergence of independent lines of evidence (discussed elsewhere) are far greater than these isolated areas of uncertainty. We can use the one liners to deal with some of your three letter abbreviations above. Your overuse of three letter abbreviations makes your argument look superficially more credible than it is, as you're hiding behind technical-sounding stuff. "Maybe it is because the deeper these technical discussions go, the more the lack of knowledge and robust measurement in vital areas of climate science are exposed." There are three reasons why discussions fizzle out on this site. One is the regular posting schedule, which means newer threads are usually more popularly commented on than older ones. Two, the kind of repetitious arguments that you produce, and then when you ignore, and misrepresent important parts of the rebuttal are not well received here. Three, the recent comments link (and the RSS feed) only contain the last 20 comments, so discussions tend to end fairly quickly as a result of that. "Several of these threads have petered out with a stalemate ending in something like: "we need better measurement and more years to find out what is really happening"." This is a reasonable conclusions for many if not most scientific discussions. However, there is enough evidence available that totally discredits your "its not really happening much" style of argument. Looks to me lie you need a bit of a dose of reality Ken. By the way, this argument of yours is a good example of misrepresenting a rebuttal, mentioned earlier.
    0 0
  18. johnd #50 "Clouds are not the only area of contention, but the most obvious, and likely the most important." If we're idly speculating, then let's idly speculate this. H2O gas in the atmosphere causes net positive feedback in the climate system. However one effect of increasing H2O(g) in the atmosphere may be to increase cloud cover. It seems possible that this may cause some negative feedback effect, but does it seem credible that the cloud negative feedback can exceed the water vapour positive feedback? It would be a nice get out of jail free card, but it doesn't seem very likely.
    0 0
  19. johnd - Comparing the Warren paper to the surface temperatures, it's pretty clear that the 1950-1980 period is fairly flat in terms of temperature (aerosols and solar cycle?); the lack of trend for cloud cover over that time frame is therefore not surprising. Your posted cloud cover data (thanks!) is really short for trend analysis, as you noted. To the extent that the data is present, however, global cloud cover seems to have an inverse relationship to temperature, with a fairly clean match for the 1983-2008 temp progression. As clouds act as a cooling factor, decreasing cloud cover with increasing temperatures should be a positive feedback, increasing temperatures even more. But, as you noted, there's not much data yet - I look forward to further information.
    0 0
  20. KR at 04:52 AM, given that you were delighted that no trend was said to be found over a 29 year period, 1952-1981, with it's obvious limitations on data quality, then perhaps would you consider the 25 year period, 1983-2008, with higher quality data as depicted in the charts I posted, is a sufficiently long period to determine a trend also? However I am left wondering what trends yourself, or the authors, hoped to find, given the Warren study spanned a period that happened to begin with global temperatures in a decline, and ended with global temperatures in a recovery? What trend would yourself expect to find in such a scenario? There is one trend however that cannot be overlooked and related to clouds. That of water vapour. It correlates with temperature, yet to be fully understood is the full relationship to cloud formation.
    0 0
  21. KR at 08:47 AM, you posted whilst I was compiling mine, but it appears we are in some sort of agreement on how we interpret the information so far. I haven't been able to open the Warren study link as yet, it comes up each time with a fault, even with different browsers.
    0 0
  22. johnd - As I noted here, no cloud trend over a no temperature change region - I was careless in my first look and didn't directly correlate the two. Over the 1952-1981 period clouds and temps hold pretty steady, based on ship-borne recorded cloud observations. Over the 1983-2008 period you gave data for, there appears to be an inverse relationship between temperature and global cloud coverage. If increased clouds provide a cooling effect, the data we have seems to indicate that cloud formation (negative) with temperature (positive) means that inverse cloud levels provide a positive feedback on temperature changes. Not bad - we're up to 56 years of data, with a two year gap. I don't have the raw data assembled for the Warren paper, or yours, so I can't run a statistical analysis on the trend relationship. But it's a pretty good inverse match from eye-balling it; enough to perhaps make it worthwhile to analyze the stats. Try this direct link for the Warren paper. My first link was through a citation, and might have been problematic.
    0 0
  23. kdkd at 08:36 AM, water vapour has a limited residency time in the atmosphere and can only complete it's cycle by the transformation to a liquid or ice. Thus it is reasonable to expect that as atmospheric water vapour content varies, so too would that of clouds. For water vapour to transform to liquid or ice, it has to give up all the heat that it had absorbed that was providing the positive feedback mentioned. If however it didn't give up all the heat, but retained some then that would maintain that positive feedback into the next cycle. HOWEVER, H2O is subject to meeting certain well defined conditions in order to change state, so about the only thing that can vary is the rate that H2O progresses through the cycle, which is probably linked to the frequency and intensity of such events as El-Nino and other similar events which each have their own identified cycles that change over much longer time frames, 6 or 7 decades, or even longer. The Quinn El-Nino reconstruction is interesting showing periods of greater and lesser activity and intensity over such longer time frames.
    0 0
  24. KR at 09:09 AM, whilst the correlation stands up well, the real key is what drives the formation of clouds. If that turns out to be something other then clouds being driven by temperature, and it is clouds that instead are driving temperature, then that puts everything into a different perspective. Whilst the present consensus seems to be temperature driving clouds, it is a very fine line that is difficult to call decisively, but with very big implications to the whole understanding of the greenhouse effect. However, from an anecdotal point of view, most people who have spent a lifetime observing outdoors through all seasons, and longer term events such as droughts and flooding rains, would conclude most reasonably that it is definitely clouds that drive temperatures.
    0 0
  25. johnd - excellent points on total water vapor vs. temperature. I will note, however, that increasing temperatures raise water vapor partial pressures, increasing the absolute humidity for the same values of relative humidity. And the GHE of water vapor is driven by absolute humidity. Clouds do have an immediate, local effect on temperatures. But what drives cloud formation in the first place? Relative humidity and atmospheric lapse rate, as I understand it. The bottom of a cumulus cloud is exactly where the relative humidity reaches 100% as the lapse rate drops temperature. And believe me, I follow those numbers quite closely as an aviator. As to the chicken/egg question of clouds and temperatures - the temperature increases are readily explained by the CO2 increases over the last 150 years with some positive feedback, and the global cloud cover appears to be inversely related to temperature in some fashion. Unless there's some mechanism independent of temperature that is changing global cloud coverage, I would think that the inverse relationship of global cloud coverage to temperature holds up pretty well.
    0 0
  26. KR at 10:05 AM, the inverse relationship of global cloud coverage to temperature should hold up well irrespective of which way cause and effect applies.
    0 0
  27. I agree on the inverse relationship, johnd - but we already have a known cause for temperature increase in the CO2 levels. That would seem to indicate that the decreased cloud levels are an effect via the inverse relationship, not a cause, unless they are (a) independently driven, and (b) the CO2 levels are not sufficient to drive the temperature changes, which doesn't seem to be the case.
    0 0
  28. Regarding clouds, I thought I read somewhere that models indicate the role of clouds depends on their altitude. Dredging for something useful on that, I bumped into an exploration of the concept having to do with actual clouds and concerning the disappearance of real-world low level clouds leading to the appearance of high level clouds and thus leading to a net positive feedback. See this interesting article in Physics World. More here in Science Daily. Sorry I don't have time right now to follow up with anything later or more definitive. Food for discussion in the meantime...
    0 0
  29. johnd #73 Your post confused me a bit. I think this is because you are getting positive feedback effects confused with runaway positive feedback effects. They're not the same thing. The water content of the atmosphere (a function of temperature and local environmental conditions) is the former. It certainly is not the latter, otherwise we would not be here.
    0 0
  30. KR:"Clouds do have an immediate, local effect on temperatures. But what drives cloud formation in the first place? Relative humidity and atmospheric lapse rate, as I understand it. The bottom of a cumulus cloud is exactly where the relative humidity reaches 100% as the lapse rate drops temperature. And believe me, I follow those numbers quite closely as an aviator." It's true that cloudiness is driven by RH and lapse rate but it is also affected by absolute humidity too. The more water vapor in the air when it begins to condense, the bigger, thicker and more extensive the clouds that will be formed. One need only look at the tropics for confirmation here. johnd:"the inverse relationship of global cloud coverage to temperature should hold up well irrespective of which way cause and effect applies." This doesn't have to be the case. As above, the temperature could rise, pumping more moisture into the air, causing more condensation and hence more cloudiness. Cheers, :)
    0 0
  31. shawnhet at 12:13 PM, re "This doesn't have to be the case. As above, the temperature could rise, pumping more moisture into the air, causing more condensation and hence more cloudiness." That is what would appear most logical, but is only a portion of the whole process. More clouds result in a greater nett cooling effect, which is evidenced by the way periods of lower cloud coverage correlate with higher temperatures. This can be seen comparing the global cloud graphs above with global temperatures over the same time frame.
    0 0
  32. shawnhet - as johnd and I were discussing above, global cloud coverage and temperature anomaly appear to be inversely related based on data over 1952-2008. johnd's satellite data (1983-2008) and the Warren 1988 paper (1952-1981) compared to the surface temperature records show this clearly. We're still discussing cause/effect regarding clouds and temperature. However, if cloud cover (a negative forcing) decreases with CO2 driven temperature increases (inverse relationship), then cloud level is a net positive feedback.
    0 0
  33. Happy flying, KR :-) Have been away from the cockpit too long myself but still keep my instructor certificate current. I'll get back up soon, when the time is right.
    0 0
  34. "for there is only one right answer to any scientific problem, only one theory that is wholly correct." If something is a 'theory' it cant be 'wholly correct', by definition, and you can't use it in the same sentence. Your discussion and such wording shows you really don't have any idea on uncertainty and authority. Some scientific problems have no known 'right answer', because of fundamental uncertainty. And some people can't handle no 'right answer', or that there could be many partially 'correct' answers'. So they force a 'single answer', artifically, so to speak. Such is the political process, which sometimes also infuses science. The folowing is a very different perspective on 'authority'. The reason that teenagers are often naturally rebellious is because social authority is so often distorted that biology has selected rebellion and independance of thought in the developing mind as a way of dealing wih almost automatic distortion of knowledge/power in any social community, including within science. This is a totally different way of looking at authority and knowledge than you have described, and I'm glad that in the real world, biology deals with distortion of knowledge/power in a far more practial way than your discussion.
    0 0
  35. tobyjoyce @ 58 'My own feeling is that Hulme and people like Judy Curry are not really helping. There are some issues over which no compromise is possible.' I guess we have to part company here despite out mutual regard for Stephen Gould. It bears remembering that the IPCC is itself a 'compromise.' Once we lose the capacity to talk to one another in a civilised way, hopes for progress evaporate. In another setting, I've heard it often said that the role of the expert is to shed more light, not more heat (pun sort of half intended but the saying is genuine - not one I made up).
    0 0
  36. KR:"We're still discussing cause/effect regarding clouds and temperature. However, if cloud cover (a negative forcing) decreases with CO2 driven temperature increases (inverse relationship), then cloud level is a net positive feedback." Yes, I understand that, however, my point is that if cloud cover were decreasing for some other reason (e.g. a natural variation), then the fact that cloudiness decreased in conjunction with increased temps was merely coincidental and doesn't necessarily imply that this inverse relationship will hold up under other conditions(such as when natural variations are different). Cheers, :)
    0 0
  37. shawnhet at 21:44 PM , that is what some scientists do consider to be the case, that is a decrease in cloud cover, even a very small decrease, causes the temperatures to rise, and conversely an increase in cloud cover causes temperatures to fall as a nett effect. Thus not being clouds that are responding to temperatures, but clouds determining temperatures. Given increased atmospheric water vapour content correlates with increased temperatures, and for water vapour to complete it's part of the hydrological cycle, it must change state from a gas to a liquid or a solid before returning to the surface, it follows that increased atmospheric water vapour should result in increased cloudiness, thus exerting an overall nett cooling effect. Compare the charts I posted earlier with temperatures over the same time span and see what conclusions can be drawn. The red/blue coloured chart showing the mean cloud amount over the different latitudes is interesting with perhaps the 1998 El-Nino able to be identified.
    0 0
  38. DougB #44, JMurphy #49 The best article on Climategate I have read is by Terrence Corcoran, who analysed the first 5 years of the 13 year record and gives a detailed chronology. Links here: http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/12/18/terence-corcoran-a-2-000-page-epic-of-science-and-skepticism-part-1.aspx and Part 2 here; http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2009/12/18/terence-corcoran-a-2-000-page-epic-of-science-and-skepticism-part-2.aspx Climategate led me to Dr Trenberth's Aug09 paper "An imperative for climate change planning: tracking the Earth'd global energy budget" which has been oft quoted in this blog. Dr Trenberth's 'travesty' comment in the leaked emails caused advocates like Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate to publicise Dr Trenberth's paper as *already out there and not a secret at all*. This paper really opened my eyes to the state of play regarding AGW theory, modelling, measurement and the importance of the energy balance and OHC measurement; and the wide range of uncertainty in the various forcing components. So Climategate was not a waste of time, and it did expose the scientists involved as typically human with all the same vices as someone like Joe the Plumber.
    0 0
  39. chriscanaris, @85, I have no problem with a civilzed conversation with the Hulmes and Currys, or with anyone else for that matter. However, when they tell me that there is a point to prolonged exchanges (or "debates") with people who have adopted the tactics of the tobacco industry in relation to science, there I part company with you and them, unless you can convince me otherwise. Gould gave up debating with creationists because (1) it lent the oppsition an intellectual credibility they did not deserve, and (2) the debates were reported by creationists invariably as "Evolutionist gets his ass kicked". You could see the same thing happening in this case.
    0 0
  40. Thingadonta, on the definition of theory: "This word is employed by English writers in a very loose and improper sense. It is with them usually convertible into hypothesis, and hypothesis is commonly used as another term for conjecture." In the correct sense, a scientific theory is not a hypothesis. Theory: "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses."
    0 0
  41. Ken, I believe your post here illustrates a fundamental problem with the utility of the "climategate" data, leaving aside entirely questions of the legality or ethics of its provenance. You remark, "The best article on Climategate I have read is by Terrence Corcoran, who analysed the first 5 years of the 13 year record and gives a detailed chronology." Terrence Corcoran cannot render a "detailed chronology" of the thoughts and communications touched upon in the emails in question; the record is acknowledged as incomplete and thus a complete, detailed and fully precise chronology is impossible to produce from what was published. The people who obtained the emails did not provide the rest of us with the complete dataset, they chose to pass along certain portions of the record while redacting other parts. Worse, we cannot know the editorial intentions of those choosing whether we'd be enlightened or remain in ignorance. An example from the National Post article you cited: What really rocked the paleoclimate work at CRU, and ultimately shook the IPCC, was a seemingly out-of-the-blue email on June 17, 1998, from Michael Mann to Phil Jones, then head of East Anglia’s CRU centre. Before then, no mention had been made in the email cache of Michael Mann... "Seemingly out-of-the-blue." Was it? How do we know? Corcoran seems to understand at some level that the detail necessary to draw broad conclusions cannot be derived from what we're allowed to see by the people who obtained the email. Here's how he expresses the problem: The emails are not a random grab of email records from one scientist’s computer or extracted in a coarse raid on the central computer facilities of one climate institute. Only by reading the emails in chronological order, from the first email sent March 7, 1996, by Russian scientist Stephan Shiyatov, from the Laboratory of Dendrochronology, Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, in Ekaterinburg, Russia — complaining to British scientist Keith Briffa about funding problems for his tree-ring research — does it become clear that the emails are part of a conscious and systematic assemblage of 13 years worth of vital communications among some of the world’s leading climate scientists. Emphasis mine. Corcoran acknowledges an agenda on the part of the people who obtained and disseminated the email as well as their selectivity in deciding what we may or may not know about its content. We can't do science with this sort of data, we're left with intuitions and thus are fully at the mercy of our prejudices. My prejudice leads me to wonder why the folks who obtained and published the emails in question chose to preserve ambiguity over certainty by not providing us with the complete dataset. Is that ambiguity necessary for making the strongest impression, and what would happen to our conclusions if we were able to see the entire record?
    0 0
  42. HumanityRules at 12:25 PM on 23 July, 2010 I don't object to the "formal aademic process" I was just trying to ask what is an expert? You fetishise the publication process too much. It is a very important if not dominant means of disseminating scienctific ideas but it is not the only one. I'm pretty sure McIntyre et al do not prioritize publication. Saying their ideas aren't published so aren't valid is just a way of avoiding those ideas. Many strains of science do not develop ideas primarily through peer-review, pharmaceuticals for example. fetishise very funny! ”McIntyre et al do not prioritize publication” McIntyre/McItrick (not sure who else your “et al.” refers to) have had a go at publication but they’re not very good at it. Their critique of Mann et al was found to be incorrect and of little merit in a very detailed published scientific analysis. McItrick had a go at publishing some work on the contribution of the UHI to temperature variation but got it hopelessly wrong by mistaking degrees for radians.... In any case you are talking about “disseminating scientific ideas” and “McIntyre et al” don’t do that, do they HR? They’re "auditors"; after all that's what they call themselves. The only other of your possible “et al”s that I can think of is Craig Loehle (another “auditor”), and he doesn’t “disseminate scientific ideas” either I think we’d agree, although he did in the past when he was a scientist. ”pharmaceuticals” Not a good example I think, ‘though without specific examples it’s difficult to know exactly what you mean. I would say the vast majority of “dissemination of scientific ideas” that underlie development of pharmaceuticals is done through the scientific literature. I’ll give an example of why I think this is the case. Perhaps you can give an example of your idea of pharmaceuticals as “a strain of science [that] do[es] not develop ideas primarily through peer-review”. Anti-HIV pharmaceuticals. There are many of these based around inhibitors of HIV-protease, reverse transcriptase inhibitors, inhibitors of virus-cell fusion. One can trace the development of ideas for these treatments through the scientific literature. The fundamental “scientific ideas” that lead to HIV protease inhibitors, for example, was (i) the identification of HIV as a retrovirus and its isolation (largely from publically funded science in France and the NIH in the US, and published in numerous scientific papers as the discoveries and ideas emerged); (ii) the sequencing of the HIV genome (published in the scientific literature by scientists (largely) at the NIH); the realization that the HIV protease was an aspartic protease through identification of sequence homologies with earlier discovered proteases from different organisms (all of which as disseminated via the scientific literature)… …and the key “scientific idea”, which was the observation that the unique structure of HIV protease gave the possibility of designing specific inhibitors (aka “drugs”) by modelling into the now-known structure of the active site of the enzyme (this work done variously by scientists at the NIH, London University, Case Western University, Pfizer and (the then) Merck, Sharp and Dohme was all published in the scientific literature – e.g. the X-ray structure of cloned and synthetic HIV-protease in several papers in 1989. Of course the pharmaceutical industry then took over to do what they do best: they screened their massive compound databases for possible HIV-proteases inhibitors and their chemists set about making compounds that might “dock” into the HIV-protease structure. Now pretty much all major pharma companies market HIV-protease inhibitors that compete in the marketplace based on the scientific ideas” that were developed and published in the scientific literature. One can follow a similar development of other anti-retrovirals (e.g. reverse transcriptase inhibitors ; cellular fusion inhibitors etc.) through similar trains of “scientific ideas” published in the scientific literature. I would say that's pretty standard fo develpment of new pharmaceuticals. Much of the work that develops the "scientific ideas" that underpin the development of pharmaceuticals is published in the broad (and vast) biomedical scientific literature, and pharmaceutical science specifically has a large number of journals in which research is described and scientific ideas are disseminated.
    0 0
  43. johnd, I agree with your post #87, however, I don't agree with the contention that the relationship btw cloudiness and temps will always be inverse. Assuming arguendo that the proximate effect of a temp increase is an increase in cloudiness, under what circumstances will the observed relationship btw cloudiness and temps *appear* to be inverse? I can only think of one consistent way for this to be the case and that is where the cloud feedback signal is masked by a natural variation of some sort. Cheers, :)
    0 0
  44. On cloudiness, something else to bear in mind is the season or the climate in which the clouds appear. In summer/warm climate, increased cloudiness leads to lower temperatures by reducing incoming radiation. In winter/cold climate, it can lead to higher temperatures due to inhibition of outgoing radiation. Not an issue if you're considering a long-term global dataset, but it is an issue if your dataset is either spatially or temporally partial. It's a complex problem, not easily open to simplistic solutions! From what I've read, it looks like the effect is somewhere between no impact and a slight positive feedback, but uncertainties are understandably larger than other feedbacks.
    0 0
  45. shawnhet at 04:31 AM, it applies as the overall NETT effect over longer time frames. As skywatcher makes mention of, depending on the seasons, types of clouds and regional conditions, the shorter term effects are much more complex and variable with the opposite occurring. It is the balancing out of all these factors that determines to NETT effect which is what is relevant in climate time frames.
    0 0
  46. Pete Ridley:
    Reliable analysis and prediction of global climates is impossible due to the significant scientific uncertainties.
    "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science." --Charles Darwin
    0 0
  47. johnd - I struggled to find adequate metadata or published papers that illuminate your ISCCP data set. I asked at realclimate and got this response from Gavin Schmidt. "First impressions are that this has a number of artifacts in it likely due to inhomogeneities in the satellites (varying levels of spatial coverage through time as satellites drop in or out). The definitive precipitable water vapour analyses are discussed in Chapter 3 of AR4, and I'd start with those publications and authors to see what the differences are with the ISCCP product". And indeed a very different picture is shown there. There is a danger here again of amateur analysis drawing a long bow from data that is improperly understood and not fit for purpose. Before you get carried on cloud reducing sensitivity, please consider how the ice-age cycle could happen if clouds worked the way you postulate.
    0 0
  48. shawnhet - the long term inverse relationship of global cloud cover to temperature is something shown by johnd's 1983-2008 data here as compared to the temperature data over that period. Some additional information comes from the Warren paper I referred to earlier, showing no trend in coverage from 1952-1981, when the temperature wasn't showing much of a trend either. This doesn't prove the relationship, but does demonstrate that over that 29yr period global cloud coverage didn't appear to change independently of global temperature. Looks like a clear inverse relationship - I will freely admit to not having any solid theories why. I could always make some wild guesses, though... :)
    0 0
  49. scaddenp at 06:42 AM , I think generally data is collected first and published papers come somewhat afterwards. It must be appreciated that the ISCCP research is very much a work in progress, and that our understanding of how the climate works will advance beyond whatever the latest IPCC report contains. The whole subject of clouds is acknowledged as being the least understood of all the factors driving climate by scientists on both sides of the debate, and it would be a brave person who claims that they know better than that. Thus the door has been left open to the possibility that advances may place a different perspective on current understanding, and that is what I find interesting and worthy of discussion. I really don't subscribe to the notion that all that there is to know is already known, in any field, or that we should reinforce that notion by endlessly patting ourselves and each other on the back, and rejecting anything that might challenge such a comfortable enjoyable existence. The correlating of clouds and global temperatures is only one, perhaps small part. The most important part, at least I think so, is getting a fuller understanding of all the factors that are involved in the formation of clouds. The difficulty for understanding clouds is that there is very limited amount of what could be described as high quality data, and that available is only for a very limited time span, a couple of decades. It also appears impossible to reconstruct proxy historical data. It therefore puzzles me how clouds have been adequately accommodated in climate models as the assumptions cannot be validated by back-casting, given that they are a significant factor in determining the energy balance. With regards to the ice age question, firstly it needs to be appreciated that even during the ice ages, the planet was not one solid block of ice. It still had the tropical regions with the accompanying temperature differentials, resulting wind circulations and varying ocean currents, and clouds I presume. The types of clouds present would have to be considered, but it still comes down to knowing what are all the factors involved in the formation of clouds. An equivalent question could be asked about CO2. If CO2 levels remained apparently constant from the ice age until the industrial revolution, how could the inter-glacial warming occur if CO2 works the way it is postulated?
    0 0
  50. JohnD regarding the paltry record for longitudinal cloud data there may be some hope for improvement at seeing into the past. Though they're presently focused on sea ice there's a group working on reprocessing Nimbus satellite data providing nearly continuous twice-daily coverage capable of reasonable cloud imagery from approximately 1964 to 1972 See this site. Also with regard to the behaviors and role of clouds I still encourage taking a look at the leads to a Science paper I mentioned upthread looking at their non-obvious properties.
    0 0

Prev  1  2  3  4  Next

You need to be logged in to post a comment. Login via the left margin or if you're new, register here.



The Consensus Project Website

THE ESCALATOR

(free to republish)


© Copyright 2021 John Cook
Home | Links | Translations | About Us | Privacy | Contact Us