2012-03-05 08:25:37Advancing Climate Science, One Skeptic Talking Point at a Time
George Morrison

Hi, I have a very early draft of a blog post up: Advancing Climate Science, One Skeptic Talking Point at a Time. But right now probably best to focus on this internal blurb I am posting here.

The tentative post is based on a little-noticed video lecture that Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica gave to National Academy of Sciences Sackler Colloquim last April: The fingerprints of sea level change

The reason I am proposing it is because I think that what Mitrovica does in this lecture is very clever. He essentially walks the audience through three skeptic talking points regarding sea level rise. But his emphasis is on how addressing those points has actually strengthened and deepened the insights of sea level researchers.

Here is a quote from early in the lecture:

So, what I will show you in this brief talk is that these three statements are indisputably false.

But a more interesting aspect of it... is that in considering these three statements - even implicitly like many of us do in sea level research - it's provided us with a lot of insight.

So, you engage your skeptics.

The last speaker was talking about conflict, and I was reminded of an F. Scott Fitzerald quote: "Conflict has a value beyond victory or defeat."

And in this field the value is deeper insight which allows you to move further into the future and project more accurately. And I will try to explain why that is. 

It's a real delight the way he walks through the research that refutes these points, but it is also oddly gratifying that one of the side effects of these investigations has been this deeper understanding. Another selected quote from later in the presentation, regarding the skeptics' pointing to the geographic variablity of global sea level rise.

@ 18:35 : So now the question is turned on its head.

At first we were told that if sea level varied geographically from place to place, it could not be because of ice sheet melt.

In fact, it HAS to be, in some sense. If ice sheets are melting sea level change has to be geographically variable. And the variability tells you something really important. Now we can go beyond just saying that sea level is rising in some globally averaged sense... You can actually, by looking at that geographic variation, tell where that meltwater is coming from. You can add these fingerprints up... and you can actually... infer which of the reservoirs were contributing how much and where...

@ 20:00 : Now, even with the very simple physics lecture I have given you, we now know how to solve "The European Problem". If Europe shows less sea level rise than the global average, what possible cause could there be? Well, Greenland MUST have melted, because Greenland is closer to Europe than it is to the global average. And by melting from Greenland, you don't get the full effect in Europe of the sea level rise. You are still in the zone where the gravity plays a role.

So, there's a very simple explanation for this reduction in sea level rise.

And again, by answering the skeptics, it provides a very beautiful example of developing a deeper insight into the physics of sea level change.

There are other examples like that in the video and some very "cool" science. If I complete the post, the main thrust would be just to direct/encourage the reader to check out the video.

So, the main reason I am putting up such an early work in progress is to just see whether that is worth completing. It is definitely a "rainy day" post - maybe for when/if there isn't some other whack-a-mole/Fakegate emergency to address. But I found it an interesting, engaging and gratifying look at how the science progresses.

If I were to complete, I would edit down the transcription that I have up now (except for a key part where the audio fades in the video, mostly in the quote above as I recall). And I would fix up the graphics, which are just screen captures. I might even ask Dr. Mitrovica for the originals.

Anyway, any initial feedback would be appreciated, whether encouragement to forge ahead or "cut bait" on the concept. Thanks. Here is the video.

2012-03-05 09:58:08
Andy S

That's a great talk and it would be very good to have it viewed widely. In the post, I realize that this is just a rough draft, make sure you distinguish very clearly between your quotes ( or paraphrases) of Mitrovica's commentary and your own comments.
2012-03-06 11:29:14
Same Ordinary Fool


It's a fabulous video that brings together different SLR issues that I've only encountered separately.  Its given me a real Eureka! experience - of a better understanding..........And the focus on the 3 skeptic fallacies is obviously applicable.

After reading your introduction above (and noting that the words "sea level rise" do not appear in its summary line), I was worried about a conflict if you spent more words describing his approach, than he'd used on it in his presentation.  This would introduce an additional ("How to"?) topic, that would only detract from the original fabulous SLR story.  My partisanship would lead me to suggest that you go even further in the other direction - to de-emphasize his generalizations, and present only the straight science...........Anyway, your rough draft assuages  [I can't pronounce it, but I can spell it] my speculations.  So, never mind. 

"Conflict has a value beyond victory or defeat", and that value deepens insight..........This just doesn't apply to his given example, the European Problem, that sea levels there aren't high enough.  All scientists wanted to know the answer (Greenland's gravity).  So this research wasn't motivated by skeptics..........As he says, the previous lecturer had mentioned "conflict", and Mitrovica was reminded of the above quote.  I think it's possible that he hadn't thought this idea thru..........Also, I bet he's referring to conflicts with skeptic scientists, like Lindzen and Spencer and Curry.  I see no way in which this quote can apply to the deniers and denier issues in SkS's world.

Given the focus on the 3 skeptic fallacies, there is an expectation that these will also be the 3 major headings..........You can assist your reader by displaying the starting times [#1 5:45, #2 12:40, #3 20:55].

Be sure to mention the significant 'take aways', that readers will want to absorb.  For example, if enough of Greenland melts to raise average global sea level by 1 meter, the water level near Greenland will drop by over 20 meters.

There is a 'fourth' skeptic fallacy that will probably appear in this blogpost's comments, that should get passing mention and a link.  This concerns the recent drop in global sea level, which turns out to be due to all the rain that has fallen on land - including Australia and Brazil.  His talk was in April.  The JPL story came later, in August.


2012-03-06 21:20:24Advancing science... One blog post at a time
John Cook

Lest you bite off more than you can chew, addressing science and the powerful notion of engaging skeptics, perhaps think about addressing each myth in a separate blog post. Then you can repeat your take-home of engagement in each post, nice reinforcement.

Big fan of this post as I've gradually come round to the position that engaging myths doesnt have to be a chore. Instead it's an opportunity for education and teachable moments.

2012-03-07 10:41:02
George Morrison

Ok, I am going to forge ahead...

@ Andy - yes, will make the distinction between my commentary and Mitrovica quotes/paraphrases very clear.

@ SOF - I will try to incorporate some of those suggestions. With respect to the fact that the advancement of the science is not solely due to the naysayers, I get that and Mitrovica alludes to that several times, but I think I want to continue to focus on the idea that ONE of the side benefits of countering these (sometimes trivial) skeptic talking points has sometimes been an unintended improvement of the scientfic understanding. I.e., rather than collapsing a house of cards, further investigation strengthened the scientific case.

I realize things could have gone the other way, too (on Bizarro world, perhaps). So, I will want to focus on what is covered just in this talk. Nevertheless I think this lecture is engaging AND gratifying/(or maddening) enough to highlight this theme of "advanced the science".

@ JC - I hear you there. My bias is not to make the emphasis here "rebuttals" but more the "advancing science" theme that I think was the distinctive subtext of Mitrovica's lecture. I see that we (SkS) already have pretty good rebuttals of Mitrovica's "20th C SLR is not anomalous" skeptic point. Probably would just point to those (and suggest a link to the video underneath those rebuttals at a later date).

Maybe I will break it up into a rebuttal point to "variable SLR means blah blah", and then a more macro blog post re: "advancing science".

@ SOF, anybody else: should I restrict the title from "advancing climate science" to "advancing sea level research" (or similar)... I think the former theme is more broadly applicable, but maybe the narrow Mitrovica examples suggest I should narrow the title as well... thanks for the inputs. 

Will update, but perhaps not until the weekend...