Anti-Global Warming Surge On The Way? [Part II]

by: Paul Rosenberg

Fri Sep 07, 2007 at 17:12


A network of anti-global warming activists is gearing up for yet another assault on the scientific consensus that global warming is real, and has a significant human-caused component.

Their chosen vehicle is a not-yet-published paper claiming to "update" and essentially overturn historian of science Naomi Oreskes 2004 finding that there was no opposition to the consensus view in a representative sample of 928 peer-reviewed articles whose abtracts she surveyed.

This is the second of a three-part series.  Part I is here.  And Part II picks up just over the fold...

Paul Rosenberg :: Anti-Global Warming Surge On The Way? [Part II]
The Echo Chamber

As flawed as Schulte's paper may be, the denialist reporting on it is even worse.  I first read about it at DailyTech, where Michael Asher wrote:


Survey: Less Than Half of all Published Scientists Endorse Global Warming Theory

....

the largest category  (48%) are neutral papers, refusing to either accept or reject the hypothesis.  This is no "consensus."

Although it might pass almost unnoticed, an enourmous leap of logic has just been taken here.  It is a huge leap to go from saying that a paper doesn't saying anything one way or another to saying that it "refuses to either accept or reject the hypothesis."  The former is passive silence, which can simply result from not addressing the topic-as, for example, almost all papers about climate in the distant past would do.  The later is an affirmative stance.

If it seems like I'm nit-picking, consider this:  It's a fair assumption that none of these papers says anything about the Holocaust, either.  Does it therefore follow that these scientists "refuse to either accept or reject the hypothesis" that Nazi Germany killed six million Jews?  Would it be fair to run a story headlined, "Survey: No Published Scientists Endorse Existence of The Holocaust"?

No?  Well, that's the "logic" being used by Asher.

What else did Asher say that twists, tortures or murders the truth?

How about this:

Oreskes' work has been repeatedly cited, but as some of its data is now nearly 15 years old, its conclusions are becoming somewhat dated.
In fact, the consensus has only strengthened in recent years, as one can clearly see by comparing the various IPCC reports over the years.  Moreover, Oreskes intended to show the full extent of the consensus, which was, necessarily, an historical enterprise.  By it's very nature, basic historical data is never dated.  This not-so-subtle attempt to denigrate and misrepresent Oreskes' work is par for the course.

After his unwarranted claim "This is no 'consensus.'" Asher continues:

The figures are even more shocking when one remembers the watered-down definition of  consensus here.  Not only does it not require supporting that man is the "primary" cause of warming, but it doesn't require any belief or support for "catastrophic" global warming.  In fact of all papers published in this period (2004 to February 2007), only a single one makes any reference to climate change leading to catastrophic results.

First, there is nothing "watered-down" in Oreskes definition of consensus.  She cites the actual words used by the IPCC and other bodies.  To refresh our memories:

In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" [p. 21 in (4)]....

[T]he National Academy of Sciences report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise" [p. 1 in (5)]. The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes: "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue" [p. 3 in (5)].

In short, the implication that Oreskes is arbitrarily crafting a watered-down version of the scientific consensus for some nefarious purposes is a sheer invention.  She is simply reporting what the consensus is, defined by the leading scientific bodies working in the relevant area, and then measuring the extent of that consensus by sampling the peer-reviewed literature.  This is entirely standard practice, and the effort to make it seem in any way unusual, arbitrary, underhanded or suspect is itself highly suspect, at the very least.

Finally, the references to "catastrophic" global warming are mired in fallacious thinking, in a toxic stew of straw man and red herring arguments.  The possibilities of catastrophic climate change are quite real-particularly for the very large percentage of the Earth's human population that lives very close to sea level.  But words like "catastrophe" and "catastrophic" are not generally part of the scientific lexicon.  The reason is simple: they are, most commonly, evaluative words, rather than merely descriptive ones.

Scientists do use these words sometimes-mostly when talking to non-scientists about policy impacts.  But since their analyses are as precise and as quantified as possible, there is little or no reason to use words like "catastrophe" or "catastrophic" in papers where their data and analysis is presented.  It is only when they take a step back from the core scientific processes embodied in peer-reviewed research that such language gains any real utility.

There are, however, at least three related points that merit mentioning, since the subject has been raised.

First is that some of the sober, numerically-projected future scenarios are indeed "catastrophic."  While the projection of sea levels, for example, is still highly uncertain, there are researchers who speculate that a one-meter rise by end of this century is a distinct possibility.  This, in turn, would threaten to flood much of America's Eastern Seaboard cities-not to mention most of Bangladesh.

Second is that various different mechanisms carry the possibility of producing threshold "tipping points," beyond which a warming cycle mechanism can start to feed on itself. 

An article at the RealClimate website (more on it in the third installment), "Musings about models", says:

Oft-discussed and frequently abused, tipping points are very rarely actually defined. Tim Lenton does a good job in this recent article. A tipping 'element' for climate purposes is defined as
      The parameters controlling the system can be transparently combined into a single control, and there exists a critical value of this control from which a small perturbation leads to a qualitative change in a crucial feature of the system, after some observation time.

and the examples that he thinks have the potential to be large scale tipping elements are: Arctic sea-ice, a reorganisation of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, melt of the Greenland or West Antarctic Ice Sheets, dieback of the Amazon rainforest, a greening of the Sahara, Indian summer monsoon collapse, boreal forest dieback and ocean methane hydrates.

To that list, we'd probably add any number of ecosystems where small changes can have cascading effects - such as fisheries. It's interesting to note that most of these elements include physics that modellers are least confident about - hydrology, ice sheets and vegetation dynamics.

Thus, the more we know, the more we are likely to discover unforeseen problems close than they now appear.

Third is that abrupt shifts in climatological behavior are possible-not just the gradual crossing of tippings points discussed above. We know this on a large scale because such shifts have been observed in the historical record.  We can also foresee catastrophic effects from suhglobal crossings of tipping points that in turn alter existing ecological and/or demographic balances-as could happen, for example, if hurricane intensity were to rise only modesty on a consistent basis, making Katrina-type events relatively common.

All three of the above are examples of possible sources of large-scale uncerainty that well could result in catastrophic outcomes.  But the language of catastrophe is not germane to their professional investigation.

Good public policy, on the other hand, depends on assessing risk.  Even very improbable events that are sufficiently dangerous warrant a preventative response, all other things being equal.  This is why there are insurance markets for unlikely catastrophes on the individual level.  When society at whole may be at risk, insurance takes the form of public policy.  Thus, prudent public policy does not wait to be told that tomorrow we shall lose our house in a two hundred-year flood.  It takes preventative steps well ahead of time, when the cost is relatively minimal, and when more than one benefit can be realized by an integrated risk-reduction strategy.

This is perhaps the most important point that denialists wish to prevent us from focusing on:  With so much uncertainty, and so much risk riding on it, there is a very strong prudential argument for taking action to prevent global warming, well before we are certain of substantial risks-especially if the steps we take have other benefits as well, such as improving energy efficiency, reducing wastefulness, etc.

Next, Asher draws a completely unwarranted conclusion from Shulte's questionable data:

These changing viewpoints represent the advances in climate science over the past decade. While today we are even more certain the earth is warming, we are less certain about the root causes.

Nothing whatever in Shultes data-at least that which Asher himself presents-would warrant such an assertion.  He is simply assuming that (1) Shulte's data are correct-which we know is not true-and (2) that the purported drop in expressed support for the consensus means more uncertainty about "the root causes."  But silence by itself cannot be evidence of uncertainty. Only overt disagreement with the consensus or overt expressions of uncertainty can be evidence of uncertainty.  And so far, what we've seen of Shulte's evidence shows only a statistically insignificant blip of dissent.

More importantly, research has shown us that -- whatever the cause may be -- the amount of warming is unlikely to cause any great calamity for mankind or the planet itself.

Asher continues:

More importantly, research has shown us that -- whatever the cause may be -- the amount of warming is unlikely to cause any great calamity for mankind or the planet itself.

No evidence whatever is provided for this claim.  There is a wide preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Asher:

Schulte's survey contradicts the United Nation IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (2007), which gave a figure of "90% likely" man was having an impact on world temperatures.

Again, this betrays a total ignorance of how science works-unless, of course, it is simply cynically playing on the ignorance of others:

But does the IPCC represent a consensus view of world scientists? Despite media claims of "thousands of scientists" involved in the report, the actual text is written by a much smaller number of "lead authors."

Thousands of scientists are involved in the report.  There is a long and arduous consultative process.  You can even read about it online, as well as in the dead tree press.  The fact that the text is written by a much smaller group is not the least bit remarkable.  It's a practical necessity.  If the lead authors drastically misrepresent the existing scientific consensus, how come we haven't heard about it from them?  Why are we hearing about it from a blogger with impaired logic?

The introductory "Summary for Policymakers" -- the only portion usually quoted in the media -- is written not by scientists at all, but by politicians, and approved, word-by-word, by political representatives from member nations. By IPCC policy, the individual report chapters -- the only text actually written by scientists -- are edited to "ensure compliance" with the summary, which is typically published months before the actual report itself.

Which probably results in a more conservative document, since it reflects governments' desires not to be forced to act any more than they have to.  If carried too far, however, the scientists would make a big stink, so the resulting document is reasonably representative-as Oreskes herself pointed out in her original "outdated" article, where she cited the other bodies who have reached a similar conclusion.

By contrast, the ISI Web of Science database covers 8,700 journals and publications, including every leading scientific journal in the world.

Of which, the vast majority have nothing to do with climate science.  Still, if Shulte's data were good, and he had found a truly significant number of papers opposed to the consensus view-say 10% or so--then it would certainly bear closer examination.  As it is, however, perhaps the most significant thing we can say here about the ISI Web of Science database is that it does not incude the journal Energy and Environment, to which Shulte's paper was submitted.  That's our cue that it's time to take a look at Energy and Environment to find out why.

The Publication Venue: Energy and Environment

On August 31, 2005, Environmental Science and Technology Online reported:

Skeptics get a journal
Climate skeptics and conservative politicians find all the science they need in the journal Energy & Environment.

If the manuscripts of climate-change skeptics are rejected by peer-reviewed science journals, they can always send their studies to Energy & Environment. "It's only we climate skeptics who have to look for little journals and little publishers like mine to even get published," explains Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, the journal's editor.

According to a search of WorldCat, a database of libraries, the journal is found in only 25 libraries worldwide. And the journal is not included in Journal Citation Reports, which lists the impact factors for the top 6000 peer-reviewed journals.

The journal remains unknown to most scientists. "I really don't know what it is," says Jay Famiglietti, editor-in-chief of Geophysical Research Letters.

Boehmer-Christiansen "tries to give people who do not have a platform a platform," says Hans von Storch, director of the Institute for Coastal Research at the GKSS Research Center (Germany). "This is then attractive for skeptic papers. They know they can come through and that interested people make sure the paper enters the political realm."

In short, it's the perfect venue for publishing a paper denying the existence of the consensus it cannot crack.  In essence, publication of Shulte's paper in Energy & Environment is an outright admission that its findings are false.  If the findings were true, there would simply be no need for a journal like Energy & Environment.

As the article in EST Online goes on to explain, the journal basically exists for the purpose of perpetuating intellectual fraud:

Because this obscure journal packs a powerful political impact, it is often used by researchers to expand on studies and then attack the science of global warming. For instance, when businessman Stephen McIntyre had a small technical paper accepted to Geophysical Research Letters, he followed it up with a more expansive statement in Energy & Environment.

This repeated a pattern established by two other climate-change skeptics, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In 2003, the two published a paper in Climate Research that purported to find warmer temperatures 1000 years ago. Skeptics refer to this time as the Medieval Warming Period. The two then published a more expansive article making the same claims in Energy & Environment.

The Climate Research paper drew sharp criticisms, including one from Michael Mann, the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. When von Storch, who was then the journal's editor, read Mann's critique, he recalls that he realized his journal should never have accepted the study. "If it would have been properly reviewed, it would have been rejected on the basis of methodological flaws," von Storch admits.

Significantly, Willie Soon no longer lists a citation for Climate Research in his biography at the nonprofit Marshall Institute, but he does reference the Energy & Environment study.

Writing about Energy & Environment editor Boehmer-Christiansen, the article concludes:

She says that the more mainstream climatologists agree, the more suspicious she becomes about claims that human activity is causing global warming. Citing her upbringing in what was then East Germany, she states, "I was born in the Nazi era with one set of consensus, then brought up by the communists where there was also strong consensus. So just by nature, I'm very suspicious."

It's fascinating, really, that someone from Eastern Europe would conflate the critical/analytical world of science with the authoritarian world of their upbringing, but Boehmer-Christiansen is not alone in this regard.  Indeed, another key venue in this unfolding anti-global warming surge prominently features the bombast of a self-described "conservative string theorist" from the Check Republic.  And so, without further ado, we move on to examine the official blog of Senator James Inhofe's staff as minority leader on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

That is, we move on in our next, and last, installment.


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Another Spin-Off (0.00 / 0)
Just brought to my attention by Robert D. Feinman over at DKos:

The Heartland Institute is calling out Al Gore to debate.

They are soooo desperate.

Any other links to sightings or citings are most welcome below.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


front paging? (0.00 / 0)
are you a front pager now Paul? 

If so, that would be great.  You've certainly earned it through your level of insightful commentary.


No, Not A Front-Pager (0.00 / 0)
Just front-paged sometimes.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

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