2011-07-29 16:06:35Roy Spencer has a news climate deniability paper out
John Cook


Email about Roy "small government" Spencer's latest:

Hi John,

You must have heard about this, but just in case: Roy Spencer has a news climate deniability paper out.
The Heartland Institute was successful landed an article in premium newspaper space
They are getting a lot of circulation, 11'000 facebook-likes, ~900 tweets. 
We're having some success fighting this in the forums with accusation of Gish Gallop. Though it would help to have a scientific counter-argument as well.
Could you deconstruct the paper in your next blog post?
2011-07-29 16:08:57KT's take
John Cook


This is on a private list so not fit for public consumption (eg - would have to get Kevin's permission to reproduce it):

I have read the paper.  I can not believe it got published.  Maybe it got through because it is not in a journal that deals with atmospheric science much? I have never read that journal.

The main basis for the paper is a figure : Figure 3 which is based on Fig. 2 data.  The axis on Fig. 2 is incorrectly labeled.  Fig 3 should never have been published because it has no error bars or uncertainty estimates.  Significance of results is never addressed, and we do not know whether anything in the figure is significant, but Spencer treats it as if it were.  Also we do not know how it was calculated and whether smoothed data (as in Fig. 2) were used or not.  Significance also goes down a lot when one goes fishing by including all leads and lags unless there is an a priori reason for those values.   One can usually guess the significance by looking at enough leads and lags and the fact that the magnitude of values at -12 months are similar to those at plus 3 months suggests neither are significant.    For the models, values are based on 100 years, not 10 years.  If instead 10 sets of 10-year model values had been selected then the odds are one would look like the "observed".  i.e. the models are likely more realistic of the true relationship.

In addition, I find the whole discussion to be out of touch with reality.  The external radiative forcing of the climate system is mostly well known and comes from the changes in atmospheric composition (greenhouse gases) and the sun spot cycle etc.  The part not so well known is the pollution (aerosol), but that is small.  Nearly all of the variations in water vapor and clouds, except for those affected by aerosol, are a response to the weather and climate variations; they are NOT a forcing.  This is a major error that continues in Spencer's work. 

The model is totally unrealistic and it does not have such things as El Nino or a hydrological cycle.  It is known that the major variations in this period are associated with El Nino, as we have discussed in our rebuttal of Lindzen's work:
Trenberth, K. E., J. T. Fasullo, C. O'Dell, and T. Wong, 2010: Relationships between tropical sea surface temperatures and top-of-atmosphere radiation. Geophys. Res. Ltt., 37, L03702, doi:10.1029/2009GL042314. [PDF]
The ocean heat content and its variations are very important, and moreover are not that well connected to sea surface temperature.  Large leads and lags are known to occur.   The parameters of Spencer's model are selected by assuming the answer to get the best fit, and do not take any ocean dynamics into account at all.   In short, the model does NOT provide a means of interpreting the data in any shape or form.

2011-07-29 19:31:58
John Mason


I've just read the paper. It's a bit muddled to my thinking and the figures seem rather simplistic. Here's the conclusion:


4.  Discussion and Conclusions
 We have shown clear evidence from the CERES instrument that global temperature variations during 2000-2010 were largely radiatively forced.  Lag regression analysis supports the interpretation that net radiative gain (loss) precedes, and radiative loss (gain) follows, temperature maxima (minima).  This behavior is also seen in the IPCC AR4 climate models.   

A simple forcing-feedback model shows that this is  the behavior expected from radiatively forced temperature changes, and it is consistent with energy conservation considerations.  In such cases it is not possible to estimate a feedback parameter through current regression techniques.  In contrast, predominately non-radiatively forced temperature changes would allow a relatively
accurate diagnosis of the feedback parameter at zero time lag using regression since most radiative variability would be due to feedback.  Unfortunately, this appears not to be the situation in either the satellite observations or the coupled climate models.

Yet, as seen in Fig. 2, we are still faced with a rather large discrepancy in the time-lagged regression coefficients between the radiative signatures displayed by the real climate system in satellite data versus the climate models.  While this discrepancy is nominally in the direction of lower climate sensitivity of the real climate system, there are a variety of parameters other than feedback affecting the lag regression statistics.   These include the amount of non-radiative versus radiative forcing, how periodic the temperature and radiative balance variations are, the depth of the mixed layer, etc., all of
which preclude any quantitative estimate of how large the feedback difference is.  


Finally, since much of the temperature variability  during 2000-2010 was due to ENSO [8], we conclude that ENSO-related temperature variations are partly radiatively forced.  We hypothesize that changes in the coupled ocean-atmosphere circulation during the El Niño and La Niña phases of ENSO cause differing changes in cloud cover, which then  modulate the radiative balance of the climate system.  As seen in Fig. 3b for the ocean-only data, the signature of radiative forcing is stronger over
the oceans than in the global average, suggesting a primarily oceanic origin.

What this might (or might not) imply regarding the ultimate causes of the El Niño and La Niña phenomena is not relevant to our central point,  i.e. that the presence of radiative forcing in satellite radiative flux measurements corrupts the diagnosis of radiative feedback.


That's the longest spelling of "I don't know" that I've seen!

More importantly, neither the abstract nor the conclusion appear to have any relevance whatsoever to the crap put out by Heartland.

Cheers - John

2011-07-29 21:14:53
Alex C


There has been a bit of discussion on Yahoo! Asnwers as well that I have taken part in.  Someone has suggested that Spencer's Cp value of 25 meters in his model is too small - indeed, it's at least half of what more realistic mixed depth layers would be.  Also, and this was my complaint, Spencer appears to (without any sort of justification) automatically assume a very low climate sensitivity: he disucsses the usual "lambda of 3.3 is neutral, lower than that is positive, higher is negative," and then states how the IPCC thinks lambda hovers somewhere around 1 to 1.5 - then, Spencer chooses 3.0.  Uh, what?

Here's the question asked there that actually got some good discussion.  You'll all recognize Dana; I'm A Modest Proposal, for anyone who hasn't yet remembered from the few times I've referenced Y!A.

2011-07-30 09:47:23Getting bombarded with this one
John Cook


Have received numerous emails about http://news.yahoo.com/nasa-data-blow-gaping-hold-global-warming-alarmism-192334971.html now, at one point 3 emails from 3 different people within half an hour of each other. Certainly the meme du jour.

2011-07-30 10:20:08


Score 1 for science !


"no climate scientist contacted by LiveScience agreed" [ with Spencer]

2011-07-30 10:44:34
Alex C


Interesting article logicman - that's quite the zinger statement.

2011-07-30 10:48:23RC response
John Cook


RC also hit this overnight:


The bottom line is that there is NO merit whatsoever in this paper. It turns out that Spencer and Braswell have an almost perfect title for their paper: “the misdiagnosis of surface temperature feedbacks from variations in the Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance” (leaving out the “On”).

Worth asking KT and John Fasullo if they're okay with using an SkSified version of their RC post as an SkS rebuttal to the Spencer paper? I'm going away for the next week on holiday but if someone else wants to make this happen (perhaps someone who has had contact with KT), would be great.

2011-07-30 15:46:56
Dana Nuccitelli
Daniel Bailey has contacted Trenberth before. I think he's on vacation though. Anyone else want to throw them a line? I'll do it if I get a chance this weekend, if nobody else has. I tried Dessler, but he declined my request for him to write a post on the subject.
2011-07-30 16:22:57got it
Dana Nuccitelli
Nevermind, I sent them an email just now to see if we can repost their RC article and use it in the database.
2011-07-30 20:27:30Added argument to database
John Cook


Added this to the database:


Also added a few blog posts on the paper:


And you'll find it at the bottom of the Rebuttal List, number 186. I'm hoping when I get back from holiday (this is the last thing I'm doing before I turn the computer off), the Rebuttal Fairies will have done their magic :-)

2011-07-31 01:03:37
Dana Nuccitelli
Got approval from Fasullo (who also said he's an SkS fan, by the way). I presume Trenberth won't have a problem. I'll do the rebuttal and blog post sometime this weekend.