Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”
In our post last week titled “Climate Alarmism: When is this Bozo Going Down?” we described how new research increasingly casts doubt on the validity of climate models and their projections of future climate change. It is increasing clear that climate models simply predict too much warming from human greenhouse gas emissions.
But the scientific community, or at least that part of it which makes its living off climate alarm, is slow to accept this.
Who can blame these folks? More money flows from the government into universities (or government labs) to study the effects of climate change if we all agree that human greenhouse gas emissions are leading to climate change of a dangerous magnitude.
So it is left to the emeritus or retired profs to lay bare the truth.
A fine example of this can be found in a recent article in the New York Times’ DotEarth blog run by ex-Times science reporter Andy Revkin. In his story looking into the implications of new scientific findings concerning the potential impacts of ocean circulation variability on our understanding of the behavior the global average surface history (parts of which we described in our last post), Revkin interviewed four prominent climate researchers. The level of confidence that each showed in the mainstream (climate model-driven) global warming meme (despite this new research suggesting that something may be rotten in the state of Denmark) appears proportional to how much professional advancement still lies ahead.
Josh Willis’ (a young scientist from the government’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) views on climate change seemed unshaken by the new research:
In regards to your question, if you mean how robust is the “slowdown” in global surface warming, the answer is it just probably just barely statistically significant. If you are wondering whether is it meaningful in terms of the public discourse about climate change, I would say the answer is no. The basic story of human caused global warming and its coming impacts is still the same: humans are causing it and the future will bring higher sea levels and warmer temperatures, the only questions are: how much and how fast?
Andrew Dessler, a mid-career professor at Texas A&M, appeared pretty much equally unmoved:
Second, I think it’s important to put the hiatus in context. This is not an existential threat to the mainstream theory of climate. We are not going to find out that, lo and behold, carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas and is not causing warming. Rather, I expect that the hiatus will help us understand how ocean variability interacts with the long-term warming that humans are causing. In a few years, as we get to understand this more, skeptics will move on (just like they dropped arguments about the hockey stick and about the surface station record) to their next reason not to believe climate science.
John Michael Wallace, a late-career professor at the University of Washington who recently became emeritus, expressed much more interest in the idea that the new research could lower confidence in just how much human greenhouse gases were impacting climate change:
…It seemed to me that the hiatus in the warming, which by then was approaching ten years in length, should not be dismissed as a statistical fluke. It was as legitimate a part of the record as the rapid rises in global-mean temperature in the 1980s and 1990s…
The new paper by Tung and Chen goes much farther than we did in making the case that Atlantic multidecadal variability needs to be considered in the attribution of climate change. I’m glad to see that it is attracting attention in the scientific community, along with recent papers of Kosaka et al. and Meehl et al. emphasizing the role of ENSO-like variability. I hope this will lead to a broader discussion about the contribution of natural variability to local climate trends and to the statistics of extreme events.
And finally Carl Wunsch, late-career professor emeritus at M.I.T. was pretty frank about the new research and the state of climate science:
The central problem of climate science is to ask what you do and say when your data are, by almost any standard, inadequate? If I spend three years analyzing my data, and the only defensible inference is that “the data are inadequate to answer the question,” how do you publish? How do you get your grant renewed? A common answer is to distort the calculation of the uncertainty, or ignore it all together, and proclaim an exciting story that the New York Times will pick up.
We couldn’t have said that better ourselves!