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?)