A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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In The Eye of the Hurricane Debate?

Via Roger Pielke Jr's Prometheus blog I note a recent statement that is signed by big names from both sides of the very heated and contentious debate over hurricane intensity and its relation to Global Warming.

It quite rightly notes that this debate is not critically relevant to policy decisions whose primary consideration is reducing loss of life and property damage from hurricanes. This is for the very simple and very clear reason that the overwhelming factor in the huge increase in US hurricane destruction over the recent decades is the pattern and manner of coastal development. To put it bluntly, people are chosing to move into high risk areas, they are not building structures that can withstand the inevitable storms, and government policy is underwriting these foolishly high risks.

Roger correctly applauds this statement as an example of feuding scientists putting aside scientific disagreements in an effort to clarify for policy makers what the socially relevant issues really are.

Hear, hear.

Now, wouldn't it be wonderful to see this same kind of joint declaration from the warring parties in the Hockey Stick debacle? How about a statement saying clearly for the record that regardless of the level of confidence of MBH98's conclusions, the IPCC's conclusions that 20th century warming is real and anthropogenic and its assessment of the dangers of further warming all have nothing to do with how warm or global the Medieval Warm Period was or was not.

It is my understanding that Climate Audit has in fact acknowledged this already.

I think the fact that this has not happened in the many years of this gloves-off, bench-clearing, jerseys-pulled-over-the-heads brawl illustrates the difference between a sincere scientific disagreement and a public relations misinformation campaign.



  • At July 27, 2006 6:27 AM, Blogger Wag the Dog said…

    Steve McIntyre admits "that, for the most part, the Hockey Stick does not matter to the great issue of the impact of 2xCO2." But later he says in the comments:

    If you take away only a couple of flawed proxies, the rest of the studies start to fall apart as well.

    I'm not especially familiar with the studies on forcing. What I would look for if I immersed myself in them is the extent to which they are tuned intentionally or unintentionally on HS-type results. If the HS is wrong, as granted for the sake of the discussion, it may affect other studies - a point which we insufficiently discussed in our head posts.

    His view of science is that errors compound over time because every publication references previous work. So that if one were to point out a flaw in, say, an experiment Galileo performed in the 17th century that no one had spotted until now, suddenly all of physics will collapse as if it were an inverted house of cards precariously balanced on a very narrow base. That the narrow base is a single dendroclimatology paper is an illusion climateaudit attempts to portray. One of his disciples posted on one of the many hockeystick debates on Deltoid:

    "Finally, after years of prodding you admit that MBH98 was wrong. None of the other following studies have had similar audit, and until such time as they do, in the light of the many flaws uncovered by Steve McIntyre, and the Wegman Report, they can no longer be relied upon."

    Contrast this logic with that used by those on either side of the hurricane strength debate. There is no comparison.

  • At July 27, 2006 10:19 AM, Anonymous Matthew C. Nisbet said…

    I have posted an analysis of the statement and why it is relevant to rethinking how scientists define for journalists what is newsworthy here:


  • At July 29, 2006 10:16 AM, Blogger Heiko said…

    What strikes me is that people must see something of value in living on the coast in areas with warm ocean temperatures (= high hurricane risk), something sufficiently valuable that is to at least partially offset both the risk of heat waves and the risk of hurricanes. Personally I suspect that poor government policy (ie ensuring property at rock bottom price compared to the risk) is not that large a factor.

    I haven't followed the Hockey Stick debate in great detail. It's clearly not proof that the IPCC has got it all wrong.

    For me it emphasises two issues. Firstly, peer review is far from perfect and the process is not getting the scrutiny it deserves. I particularly dislike the fact that scientists give away their articles for free to journals, and do the peer reviewing without reward. This leads to huge profits for a few companies that happen to own prestigious journals (that are only prestigious, because high impact authors choose to publish there, and they only do so, because it's a high impact journal) and enormously restricted access, meaning that students, researchers and other interested parties don't get to see papers, have to pay for them, or only see them with a huge delay.

    And because researchers aren't paid to do peer review, they tend to put it right at the bottom of their task lists, meaning publication takes forever, but peer review is still sloppy and often may amount to little more than an expert scan reading a paper, checking pretty cursorily whether it's well presented and looks good and new. It's common for reviewers to take months to to something about a paper, and then they'll spend an afternoon on it.

    I think all research should be open access on the internet, and journals should be eliminated, with quality control going to paid government committees, assisted by say surveys of scientists. Why not introduce a period for comments, for reviews by anyone (or with some restrictions, to make sure only suitably qualified people comment)?

    While I haven't followed the HS debate much, I have noticed that McIntyre et al have given this pet issue of mine some attention.

    Secondly, the HS debate doesn't say much about the impact of 2xCO2, but neither is there a scientific consensus on the best action to be taken. It is fair enough to use the IPCC science to advance say the Democratic energy agenda, but the IPCC does not have a consensus that Democratic energy policies are better than Republican ones, and advocates for the former should be careful not to insinuate that.

    Nor is there a strong consensus that climate change of 2-3C is likely to be a net negative. There would be, if we were talking about a hit by an asteroid. For climate change there is a majority opinion that 2-3C will be a net negative. There is uncertainty about the consequences of 2-3C and disagreement about how to value things (risk tolerance, intergenerational justice, discount rates, and whether a species of Icelandic worms is worth nothing, or priceless compared to say savings on heating bills).


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