Climate Audit has been considered – at least as a phenomenon – in a couple of courses. Kenneth Blumenfeld’s students had a different reaction than the Georgia Tech students. Earlier this year, I wrote a short comment about a post that Kenneth had made at realclimate about this, which I am re-posting in its entirety. It’s amazing how perceptions differ. The students had to represent various viewpoints and one even chose to represent CA. Kenneth recently asked me to write another into piece of a similar nature for the fall term which I’ve appended below – following the reprint.
Our "blogfather", realclimate, has been celebrating their one-year anniversary (congratulations to them) and have been reflecting on their year. Kenneth Blumenfeld, who’s posted here once or twice, posted an interesting comment at realclimate, about how his undergraduates were now investigating climate change issues online, that they "very badly wanted to get behind RC", but wanted them to "step up to the plate, not just take practice swings", mentioning that they were getting their butts kicked. To any such undergraduates that may have come to this site: welcome.
Kenneth Blumenfeld’s full comment is here as follows:
I should relay, however, that undergraduate meteorology, geography, and geology students (to name only few disciplines) are now taking time out to investigate these issues, and they are doing it online, rather than in the literature, as wacko as that may seem. Despite the overwhelming majority of consensus-side scientists out there, it is much easier to get contrarian/skeptical/psuedo skeptical information. The consensus folks are getting their you-know-whats kicked in this regard, and all I can offer as evidence are my 90 or so students this past semester who I think very badly wanted to get behind RC but felt they were side-stepping direct confrontation. They felt that by appearing to ignore skeptics (except for on its own forum) RC was in some sort of denial. You and I may not believe this is true, but to the future climate scientists I think it is an important point. They want to see their people step up to the plate, not just take practice swings, so to speak.
Gavin’s reply is quite revealing of realclimate attitudes towards laity:
I think one needs to differentiate dealing with ‘sceptic’ issues from going head-to-head with some particular site or person. … [I] think it is do what we are doing – provide solid discussions of the real scientific issues which can then be used by others in different forums. If you have any specific ideas to make that work better, let us know.
A few thoughts for such undergraduates (to regulars, I apologize for repeating some old stories):
As I often repeat, I am not a "contrarian". If I were a politician and forced to make a decision on climate policy in the next 10 minutes, I would be guided by the IPCC and the various learned societies that I so often criticize. However, any scientist worth his salt (as Feynmann tells us) should not rely on authority and should question authorities. Such inquiries at realclimate often provoke a highly irritating faux exhaustion ("…sigh,…"). Not here.
Anyway, like an inquiring student, I’ve taken an interest in questions of climate change, with a view to understanding exactly how IPCC climate scientists were able to come to the conclusions that inform their policy recommendations. The most prominent graphic in the famous IPCC Third Assessment Report was the iconic hockey stick graph, which is the foundation of the claims that 1998 was the "warmest year" and the 1990s the "warmest decade" of the millennium, claims that were repeated over and over in promotion of the Kyoto protocol in Canada and doubtless elsewhere. I thought that both the claims and the graph were highly promotional (and this from someone with extensive experience in mining promotions) and began investigating the matter on a casual basis without any expectation that anyone would be interested in my findings. My interest and commitment to the topic would not then have risen much above the level of undergraduate browsing.
My browsing did go so far as to try to identify the underlying data and, for some reason, I contacted the author of the hockey stick study, Michael Mann, when I was unable to locate the data. I initially became engaged in the matter in a more serious way, when Mann said that he had "forgotten" where the data was and one of his associates, to whom Mann turned over the inquiry, said that it was not in any one place, but that he would get it together for me. I drew that conclusion that no one had ever checked Mann’s work and thought that this would be an interesting project, rather like doing a large crossword puzzle. At the time, like any undergraduate reading this, I had never written an academic article. I certainly had no plans to become engaged in academic controversy.
One thing led to another. It turned out that the hockey stick study was a very flawed piece of work and my coauthor, Ross McKitrick, and myself have written several articles criticizing various aspects of the article. Throughout this blog, you will see other issues with the original Mann study and similar studies. Because of the prominence of the hockey stick in IPCC, criticizing the hockey stick has occasioned tremendous blowback. Much of the early life of realclimate was spent trying to preempt our criticisms of the hockey stick. More recently, the "consensus" approach to the matter is that the hockeystick never mattered in the first place.
So where does that leave someone who still wants to know about the impact of increased CO2 on climate – in a ground truth sense, not in a pablumized sense of: here’s what "we know" – not Gavin’s "solid discussion which can be used in another forum", meritorious as that may be.
First, there are many complicated statistical issues. I don’t pretend to be much more than a one-eyed man here. I know enough to be aware of the issues. I’m shocked at the statistical ineptness of people purporting to be climate scientists. The statistical ineptness is quite weird, because, in some climate areas, you see very sophisticated math being applied to deal with complicated physics. But for some reason, this doesn’t seem to be the case with their statistics. As a rule of thumb, for any undergraduates: don’t assume that any of these guys have a clue about statistical significance. There’s been some recent threads at realclimate that illustrate this in spades. For any undergraduates with a strong interest in statistics: there’s a real gold mine of topics in climate science and I would urge you to take an interest in it.
Second, any consideration of climate policy matters will quickly bring you into contact with general circulation models (GCMs). In terms of academic productivity, I have much unfinished business with multiproxy studies, which as a matter of thoroughness, I wish to complete. However, since the promoters of these studies now say that they "don’t matter", some of the edge is being taken off the enterprise. Also by running this blog, one is brought into contact with readers with more general interests than multiproxy studies, as interesting as I may find them.
There are some disquieting points about GCMs. I won’t do anything more than allude to them for now. I’ve posted up about Robert Kaufmann’s finding that, for the purpose of modeling global temperature, GCMs do not out-perform simple linear models using the same forcing factors, and, in fact, under-perform them. Kaufmann posted this at realclimate. Gavin’s realclimate answer was that the issue of global temperature was a "done deal", that the GCMs had "moved on" to regional issues. He requested that Kaufmann continue any discussion of this pretty interesting issue off-line, undoubtedly contributing to the disquiet that the undergraduates feel about them side-stepping issues. Gavin seemed to suggest that those benighted people who were interested in global temperature, rather than "moving on", should look at EBMs (energy balance models).
In any event, for any undergraduates who’s come here, be warned that my posts are pretty uneven – this is just me, not an entire Hockey Team. However, you can be assured that, unlike realclimate, the objective is not to provide you with materials "which can be used by others in different forums", but to inquire about the issues. I hope that you conclude that: when we play hockey, we go into the corners and don’t just dipsy-doodle at center ice; when we play baseball, we step up to the plate and don’t just take practice swings. (Did I mention squash?)
Here is a more recent epistle written in late September:
What is Climate Audit and what is its purpose?
Climate Audit is my personal blog started at the end of January 2005. It has developed rather a life of its own — we get about 10,000 hits a day. In one and half years of operation, I’ve made over 800 head posts and readers have made over 30,000 comments.
Initially, I started it purely as a defensive mechanism. Together with Ross McKitrick, I had written a couple of critical articles on the MBH hockey stick for academic journals. While we were waiting for publication of an article in GRL, in Dec 2004, Mann and associates launched a new blog (realclimate) which spent much of its early history on various pre-emptive attacks on us (Yet Another False Claim by McIntyre and McKitrick; Dummies’ Guide to the Hockey Stick, etc.) and attacked us in correspondence to journals.
It became very clear that our articles would never get any sort of hearing unless we responded to these attacks and so I started climateaudit at the end of January 2005, more or less coinciding with publication of articles in GRL and Energy and Environment.
The scope of Climate Audit is a bit different than realclimate or the Pielke sites. While there is a lot of discussion of the MBH hockey stick, I often use the blog as a form of diary on topics that I’m reading about or working on. Thus there are many notes on the various reconstructions published by the “Hockey Team” — Mann, Bradley, Jones, Briffa etc.- and on many individual proxies and even technical statistical issues such as spurious regression. Some of these notes may find their way into a publication some day. For me, since I’m working on my own, the blog functions as a type of on-line seminar.
The readers have a wide range of competence, but include some pretty talented statistics post-docs. Several of the leading authorities in the area have occasionally posted at the blog (Zorita, BàÆà⻲ger, Curry).
The controversy has become very prominent and been widely covered. There are many posts about topics in the news, including ones in which I’ve been involved directly or indirectly — such as the National Academy of Sciences panel on Surface Temperature Reconstructions, hearings by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to pick two of the most prominent.
The blog has become pretty sprawling. There are many different topics covered, but they developed over the past year and a half not in any particular order. I suggest the following tools: use the Categories on the right frame; that will organize most of the posts. For papers, go to the page on the right frame multiproxy pdf’s — that has the relevant academic literature and presentations. The PPTs provide a type of overview.
As to the hockey stick, I’m convinced that no confidence whatever can be attached to any of the reconstructions — which, in my opinion, have been wildly oversold. Some evidence supports the idea that the modern warm period is warmer than the MWP, but other evidence points the other way. I don’t have strong opinions on the matter, but I’m somewhat inclined to the view that the MWP was a little warmer than the late 20th century.
I don’t have any personal views on the hurricane debate. There’s been discussion of this topic on Climate Audit, but nearly all by others. It seems quite plausible to me that warmer SSTs would cause more hurricanes.
I think that there are some real issues with the representation of solar forcing in models, but am not in a position to comment in detail on the matter. I intend to direct some discussion at the blog towards this topic over the next few months.
I might add that I’m a believer in niche markets. This particular blog is not for everyone. It might not be suitable for climate scientists. I don’t know what its “mission” is or even if it has a “mission”. Maybe it’s a bit of a consumers’ guide to paleoclimate science manufacturers.