How Hype is Hurting Science

The recent riots in France over a proposed carbon tax, aimed at supposedly combating climate change, were a direct result of blatant exaggeration in climate science for political purposes. It’s no coincidence that the decision to move forward with the tax came soon after an October report from the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), claiming that drastic measures to curtail climate change are necessary by 2030 in order to avoid catastrophe. President Emmanuel Macron bought into the hype, only to see his people rise up against him.

Exaggeration has a long history in modern science. In 1977, the select U.S. Senate committee drafting new low-fat dietary recommendations wildly exaggerated its message by declaring that excessive fat or sugar in the diet was as much of a health threat as smoking, even though a reasoned examination of the evidence revealed that wasn’t true.

About a decade later, the same hype infiltrated the burgeoning field of climate science. At another Senate committee hearing, astrophysicist James Hansen, who was then head of GISS (NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies), declared he was 99% certain that the 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming from 1958 to 1987 was caused primarily by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and wasn’t a natural variation. This assertion was based on a computer model of the earth’s climate system.

At a previous hearing, Hansen had presented climate model predictions of U.S. temperatures 30 years in the future that were three times higher than they turned out to be. This gross exaggeration makes a mockery of his subsequent claim that the warming from 1958 to 1987 was all man-made. His stretching of the truth stands in stark contrast to the caution and understatement of traditional science.

But Hansen’s hype only set the stage for others. Similar computer models have also exaggerated the magnitude of more recent global warming, failing to predict the pause in warming from the late 1990s to about 2014. During this interval, the warming rate dropped to below half the rate measured from the early 1970s to 1998. Again, the models overestimated the warming rate by two or three times.

An exaggeration mindlessly repeated by politicians and the mainstream media is the supposed 97% consensus among climate scientists that global warming is largely man-made. The 97% number comes primarily from a study of approximately 12,000 abstracts of research papers on climate science over a 20-year period. But what is never revealed is that almost 8,000 of the abstracts expressed no opinion at all on anthropogenic (human-caused) warming. When that’s taken into account, the climate scientist consensus percentage falls to between 33% and 63% only. So much for an overwhelming majority! 

A further over-hyped assertion about climate change is that the polar bear population at the North Pole is shrinking because of diminishing sea ice in the Arctic, and that the bears are facing extinction. For global warming alarmists, this claim has become a cause célèbre. Yet, despite numerous articles in the media and photos of apparently starving bears, current evidence shows that the polar bear population has actually been steady for the whole period that the ice has been decreasing – and may even be growing, according to the native Inuit.

It’s not just climate data that’s exaggerated (and sometimes distorted) by political activists. Apart from the historical example in nutritional science cited above, the same trend can be found in areas as diverse as the vaccination debate and the science of GMO foods.

Exaggeration is a common, if frowned-upon marketing tool in the commercial world: hype helps draw attention in the short term. But its use for the same purpose in science only tarnishes the discipline. And, just as exaggeration eventually turns off commercial customers interested in a product, so too does it make the general public wary if not downright suspicious of scientific proclamations. The French public has recognized this on climate change.

Belief in Catastrophic Climate Change as Misguided as Eugenics was 100 Years Ago

Last week’s landmark report by the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which claims that global temperatures will reach catastrophic levels unless we take drastic measures to curtail climate change by 2030, is as misguided as eugenics was 100 years ago. Eugenics was the shameful but little-known episode in the early 20th century characterized by the sterilization of hundreds of thousands of people considered genetically inferior, especially the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, minorities and the poor.

Although ill-conceived and even falsified as a scientific theory in 1917, eugenics became a mainstream belief with an enormous worldwide following that included not only scientists and academics, but also politicians of all parties, clergymen and luminaries such as U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt and famed playwright George Bernard Shaw. In the U.S., where the eugenics movement was generously funded by organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, a total of 27 states had passed compulsory sterilization laws by 1935 – as had many European countries.

Eugenics only fell into disrepute with the discovery after World War II of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime in Germany, including the holocaust as well as more than 400,000 people sterilized against their will. The subsequent global recognition of human rights declared eugenics to be a crime against humanity.

The so-called science of catastrophic climate change is equally misguided. Whereas modern eugenics stemmed from misinterpretation of Mendel’s genetics and Darwin’s theory of evolution, the notion of impending climate disaster results from misrepresentation of the actual empirical evidence for a substantial human contribution to global warming, which is shaky at best.

Instead of the horrors of eugenics, the narrative of catastrophic anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming conjures up the imaginary horrors of a world too hot to live in. The new IPCC report paints a grim picture of searing yearly heatwaves, food shortages and coastal flooding that will displace 50 million people, unless draconian action is initiated soon to curb emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. Above all, insists the IPCC, an unprecedented transformation of the world’s economy is urgently needed to avoid the most serious damage from climate change. 

But such talk is utter nonsense. First, the belief that we know enough about climate to control the earth’s thermostat is preposterously unscientific. Climate science is still in its infancy and, despite all our spectacular advances in science and technology, we still have only a rudimentary scientific understanding of climate. The very idea that we can regulate the global temperature to within 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) through our own actions is absurd.

Second, the whole political narrative about greenhouse gases and dangerous anthropogenic warming depends on faulty computer climate models that were unable to predict the recent slowdown in global warming, among other failings. The models are based on theoretical assumptions; science, however, takes its cue from observational evidence. To pretend that current computer models represent the real world is sheer arrogance on our part.

And third, the empirical climate data that is available has been exaggerated and manipulated by activist climate scientists. The land warming rates from 1975 to 2015 calculated by  NOAA (the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are distinctly higher than those calculated by the other two principal guardians of the world’s temperature data. Critics have accused the agency of exaggerating global warming by excessively cooling the past and warming the present, suggesting politically motivated efforts to generate data in support of catastrophic human-caused warming.  

Exaggeration also shows up in the setting of new records for the “hottest year ever” –declarations deliberately designed to raise alarm. But when the global temperature is currently creeping upwards at the rate of only a few hundredths of a degree every 10 years, the establishment of new records is unsurprising. If the previous record has been set in the last 10 or 20 years, a high temperature that is only several hundredths of a degree above the old record will set a new one.

Eugenics too was rooted in unjustified human hubris, false science, and exaggeration in its methodology. Just like eugenics, belief in apocalyptic climate change and in the dire prognostications of the IPCC will one day be abandoned also.

Next week: No Evidence That Aluminum in Vaccines is Harmful

Solar Science Shortchanged in Climate Models

The sun gets short shrift in the computer climate models used to buttress the mainstream view of anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. That’s because the climate change narrative, which links warming almost entirely to our emissions of greenhouse gases, trivializes the contributions to global warming from all other sources. According to its Fifth Assessment Report, the IPCC attributes no more than a few percent of total global warming to the sun’s influence.

That may be the narrative but it’s not one universally endorsed by solar scientists. Although some, such as solar physicist Mike Lockwood, adhere to the conventional wisdom on CO 2 , others, such as mathematical physicist Nicola Scafetta, think instead that the sun has an appreciable impact on the earth’s climate. In disputing the conventional wisdom, Scafetta points to our poor understanding of indirect solar effects as opposed to the direct effect of the sun’s radiation, and to analytical models of the sun that oversimplify its behavior. Furthermore, a lack of detailed historical data prior to the recent observational satellite era casts doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the IPCC estimates.

I’ve long felt sorry for solar scientists, whose once highly respectable field of research before climate became an issue has been marginalized by the majority of climate scientists. And solar scientists who are climate change skeptics have had to endure not only loss of prestige, but also difficulty in obtaining research funding because their work doesn’t support the consensus on global warming. But it appears that the tide may be turning at last.

Judging from recent scientific publications, the number of papers affirming a strong sun-climate link is on the rise. From 93 papers in 2014 examining such a link, almost as many were published in the first half of 2017 alone. The 2017 number represents about 7% of all research papers in solar science over the same period (Figure 1 here) and about 16% of all papers on computer climate models during that time (Figure 4 here).

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This rising tide of papers linking the sun to climate change may be why UK climate scientists in 2015 attempted to silence the researcher who led a team predicting a slowdown in solar activity after 2020. Northumbria University’s Valentina Zharkova had dared to propose that the average monthly number of sunspots will soon drop to nearly zero, based on a model in which a drastic falloff is expected in the sun’s magnetic field. Other solar researchers have made the same prediction using different approaches.

Sunspots are small dark blotches on the sun caused by intense magnetic turbulence on the sun’s surface. Together with the sun’s heat and light, the number of sunspots goes up and down during the approximately 11-year solar cycle. But the maximum number of sunspots seen in a cycle has recently been declining. The last time they disappeared altogether was during the so-called Maunder Minimum, a 70-year cool period in the 17th and 18th centuries forming part of the Little Ice Age.

While Zharkova’s research paper actually said nothing about climate, climate scientists quickly latched onto the implication that a period of global cooling might be ahead and demanded that the Royal Astronomical Society – at whose meeting she had originally presented her findings – withdraw her press release. Fortunately, the Society refused to accede to this attack on science at the time, although the press release has since been removed from the Web. Just last month, Zharkova’s group refuted criticisms of its methodology by another prominent solar scientist.

Apart from such direct effects, indirect solar effects due to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation or cosmic rays from deep space could also contribute to global warming. In both cases, some sort of feedback mechanism would be needed to amplify what would otherwise be tiny perturbations to global temperatures. However, what’s not generally well known is that the warming predicted by computer climate models comes from assumed water vapor amplification of the modest temperature increase caused by CO 2 acting alone. Speculative candidates for amplification of solar warming involve changes in cloud cover as well as the earth’s ozone layer.

(Comments on this post can be found at the Ice Age Now blog, which has kindly reproduced excerpts from the post.)

Next week: Measles or Autism? False Choice, Says Science

Evidence Lacking for Major Human Role in Climate Change

Conventional scientific wisdom holds that global warming and consequent changes in the climate are primarily our own doing. But what few people realize is that the actual scientific evidence for a substantial human contribution to climate change is flimsy. It requires highly questionable computer climate models to make the connection between global warming and human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The multiple lines of evidence which do exist are simply evidence that the world is warming, not proof that the warming comes predominantly from human activity. The supposed proof relies entirely on computer models that attempt to simulate the earth’s highly complex climate, and include greenhouse gases as well as aerosols from both volcanic and man-made sources – but almost totally ignore natural variability.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that the models have a dismal track record in predicting the future. Most spectacularly, the models failed to predict the recent pause or hiatus in global warming from the late 1990s to about 2014. During this period, the warming rate dropped to only a third to a half of the rate measured from the early 1970s to 1998, while at the same time CO2 kept spewing into the atmosphere. Out of 32 climate models, only a lone Russian model came anywhere close to the actual observations.

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Not only did the models overestimate the warming rate by two or three times, they wrongly predict a hot spot in the upper atmosphere that isn’t there, and are unable to accurately reproduce sea level rise.

Yet it’s these same failed models that underpin the whole case for catastrophic consequences of man-made climate change, a case embodied in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions – which 195 nations, together with many of the world’s scientific societies and national academies, have signed on to – is based not on empirical evidence, but on artificial computer models. Only the models link climate change to human activity. The empirical evidence does not.

Proponents of human-caused global warming, including a majority of climate scientists, insist that the boost to global temperatures of about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since 1850 comes almost exclusively from the steady increase in the atmospheric CO2 level. They argue that elevated CO2 must be the cause of nearly all the warming because the sole major change in climate “forcing” over this period has been from CO2 produced by human activities – mainly the burning of fossil fuels as well as deforestation.

But correlation is not causation, as is well known from statistics or the public health field of epidemiology. So believers in the narrative of catastrophic anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change fall back on computer models to shore up their argument. With the climate change narrative trumpeted by political entities such as the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and amplified by compliant media worldwide, predictions of computer climate models have acquired the status of quasi-religious edicts.

Indeed, anyone disputing the conventional wisdom is labeled a “denier” by advocates of climate change orthodoxy, who claim that global warming skeptics are just as anti-science as those who believe vaccines cause autism. The much ballyhooed war on science typically lumps climate change skeptics together with creationists, anti-vaccinationists and anti-GMO activists. But the climate warmists are the ones on the wrong side of science.

Like their counterparts in the debate over the safety of GMOs, warmists employ fear, hyperbole and heavy-handed political tactics in an attempt to shut down debate. Yet skepticism about the human influence on global warming persists, and may even be growing among the general public. In 2018, a Gallup poll in the U.S. found that 36% of Americans don’t believe that global warming is caused by human activity, while a UK survey showed that a staggering 64% of the British public feel the same way. And the percentage of climate scientists who endorse the mainstream view of a strong human influence is nowhere near the widely believed 97%, although it’s probably above 50%.

Most scientists who are skeptics like me accept that global warming is real, but not that it’s entirely man-made or that it’s dangerous. The observations alone aren’t evidence for a major human role. Such lack of regard for the importance of empirical evidence, and misguided faith in the power of deficient computer climate models, are abuses of science.

(Another 189 comments on this post can be found at the What's Up With That blog and the NoTricksZone blog, which have kindly reproduced the whole post.)