Glickstein and WUWT's Confusion about Reasoned Skepticism

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.

Posted by dana1981 on Sunday, 3 July, 2011

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