These Are Not Contradictions, Part Two

Yesterday's post focused on Table 1 of a recent paper by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky named "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism." This came after a post focusing on Table 2 of the paper. These posts focused on these two tables because there are no other figures or tables in the paper, causing these two tables to have the largest visual impact.

It was suggested to me I was unfair in pointing out the authors offered absolutely no evidence anyone believes the contradictions in Table 1 exist, or even that the stated beliefs are contradictory. The reason is the authors did give seven examples in their text with arguments and sources to support them. There are seven of these examples, whereas Table 1 is described as:

Over one hundred incoherent pairs of arguments can be found in contrarian discourse. (See www.skepticalscience.com/contradictions.php). In this article, we have explored a representative sample in some detail. For further illustration we show several other incoherent arguments in Table 1. Each of the arguments in the table is subject to the same critical analysis as the examples in the preceding sections.

Table 1 had some 20 different examples listed, and the text discussing it referred to there being over 100 examples in total. That seemed the most relevant topic to discuss. After all, even if all seven points of contradiction discussed in the body of the paper were real, that is only seven points on which various global warming skeptics disagree. That's hardly "incoherent." You could find just as many points of disagreement on most scientific issues.

Still, it is worth discussing those seven examples. As such, I will do so in today's post.

The first example is:

1.3.1 Climate sensitivity is low but it is high

I remarked on this point in a comment on my first post, but I'll repeat it here. The authors say:

Past climate changes were largely driven by slight variations in solar intensity arising from orbital variations or solar cycles, and those events are entirely independent of contemporary GHG-driven global warming. Moreover, the appeal to past periods of warming also entails a commitment to high climate sensitivity: if climate sensitivity were as low as contrarians like to claim ( ≈1.5∘≈1.5∘ C), then the minute past variation in intensity of insolation could not have caused the observed warming episodes (PALAEOSENS 2012).

This is begging the question. The authors claim it is contradictory to believe climate sensitivity is low and there have been past periods of elevated warmth. The reason they give is the only way changes in solar intensity could cause periods of elevated warmth is if climate sensitivity is high. This raises the obvious question, "Who says past periods of elevated warmth were caused by changes in solar intensity?

The answer is... the authors do. Maybe they're right. Maybe they're wrong. That doesn't matter for this paper. What matters for this paper is whether or not various beliefs contradict one another. There is no contradiction in believing climate sensitivity is low and there have been past periods of elevated warmth if one rejects the idea past changes were caused solely by changes in solar intensity.

In other words, this example shows if global warming skeptics (as a whole) accept a particular mainstream argument, they contradict themselves by holding these two beliefs. Given that, the authors offer this as their first example of skeptics (as a group) holding contradictory beliefs. An alternative interpretation is people who disagree with two mainstream arguments disagree with a third mainstream argument as well.

1.3.2 CO2 cannot be measured but lags behind temperature
Past levels of atmospheric CO2 are known with considerable precision from analysis of Antarctic ice cores dating back 400,000 years. One contrarian argument holds that those measurements are unreliable and do not tell us about past CO2 levels (Jaworowski 1997).

A notable aspect of past climate changes is that atmospheric CO2 increased after an initial increase in temperatures primarily in Antarctica. This occurs because the initial solar-driven warming that is focused on extreme latitudes is sufficient to trigger the release of CO2 from the oceans into the atmosphere (because solubility of CO2 in water decreases with increasing temperature), which in turn amplifies warming and hence leads to more release of CO2 from the oceans, and so on. Overall, more than 90 % of the warming observed during the glacial-interglacial followed the increase in CO2 whereas less than 10 % preceded the release of CO2 and was due to the initial solar pulse (Shakun et al. 2012).3 By focusing on the lag between temperature increase and CO2 increase in Antarctica, and by ignoring the fact that warming occurs after the CO2 increase across most of the globe, contrarians have argued that CO2 was not the cause of warming in the past but a consequence.

I'm not going to discuss this example for three simple reasons. First, the authors didn't give any reference to show that skeptics actually argue CO2 lags behind temperatures. I know I've seen such an argument before, but if the authors can't be bothered to provide references for their claims, I am not going to do the work of hunting down sources for them.

Second, the date of the reference given to show anyone believes CO2 measurements are unreliable is 1997. You cannot show anyone holds contradictory beliefs in the present day by citing beliefs expressed 20 years ago. Two decades is a lot of time. Views could change. In fact, they did. As of 1997, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which these authors list as reporting the consensus view) didn't even say we could know global warming was happening. It said:

The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on the global climate.

That's a far weaker position than it and the authors of this paper express today. If the "consensus" view could evolve a great deal in the last two decades, surely the skeptic position should be allowed to evolve as well.

The third and final reason is Zbigniew Jaworowski is a nut. Or at least, he was. He died a few years ago, making the idea his beliefs demonstrate what skeptics believe something of a stretch. Regardless, the guy was a nutjob who believed global warming was a plot designed to help bring about the New World Order, or something along those lines.

I wrote a post about this because he was cited favorably by Mark Steyn in a book claiming to show "expert" opinions back up certain things he said. I suggest you read that if you want to know who Jaworowski is. For those who don't want to read it, here is a sample of his views:

The IPCC thesis is based on research from the CRU. Scientists from the University of East Anglia have at their disposal enormous sums of money and political support. In practice, they simply obey the dictates of the United Nations, which is promoting the global warming initiative, in order to suppress the development of industry, which they claim is destroying the Biosphere of the Earth.... The anti-industry propaganda is aimed at the destruction of our civilization!

The guy was a nutjob. I don't know how many skeptics took him seriously, I don't know how his views on scientific issues changed since 20 years ago, and I'm not interested in delving into the issue. I'd rather just leave it at this: You can find nutjobs who said crazy things 20 years ago about almost any topic. That doesn't do anything to say what the views of any particular group might be.

1.3.3 Global temperature cannot be measured accurately but global warming stopped in 1998
A long-standing contrarian argument has been that the global temperature record is inaccurate and that therefore global warming cannot be measured accurately (Watts 2009). This argument has often appealed to the presence of “urban heat islands”; that is, the trapping of heat in large urban areas which has increased with greater traffic volumes and economic activity. Alternatively, the argument cites the fact that thermometers may be located near airports or air conditioner exhausts, thereby distorting and artificially amplifying the temperature trend. Another variant of the argument cites adjustments to the temperature record (which are necessary to compensate for variables such as the movement or replacement of thermometers over time) as introducing a warming bias. The scientific literature has shown that those arguments have no qualitative impact on the observed warming trend (e.g., Fall et al. 2011; Smith et al. 2005).

Another long-standing contrarian claim has been that global warming “stopped” in 1998 (e.g., Carter 2006).... Either the temperature record is sufficiently accurate to examine its evolution, including the possibility that warming may have “paused”, or the record is so unreliable that no determination about global temperatures can be made.4

The first thing to note is the claim "those arguments have no qualitative impact on the observed warming trend" is misleading. In a qualitative sense of, "There is warming" or "There is no warming," it is true adjustments to data do not change the answer. It is also likely true no problems with the data change that answer either.

However, important scientific issues are rarely examined in only a qualitative sense. If an issue is important, scientists actually take the time to look at numbers. If we do that, we find these issues do have a significant effect. Here is the effect adjustments to the data have for the Berkeley Earth temperature record (blue - unadjusted, red - adjusted):

8_24_Figure_2

You can find more information here. What you'll find is for this group's work, adjustments to the data do not artificially create a warming trend. They just have have a significant impact. Anyone who does not trust those adjustments would naturally think there is a significant amount of uncertainty. This is particularly true if they think adjustments go in the wrong direction.

I am not trying to rehash the adjustment issue in this post though. The point of showing that figure is much simpler. In that figure, there are significant differences between the adjusted and unadjusted temperature records, but those differences manifest primarily in the past. The effect in modern times is minute. This shows a person could reasonably believe global warming over the last century or more cannot be accurately measured yet believe temperatures in recent times can be. All they have to do is believe reliability in the temperature data set has increased over time, to the point where it is reasonably useful in the last few decades.

That all said, there is a much more important point. I didn't want to lead with this because I think the issue of what effect adjustments have to the data is an interesting issue which deserves careful consideration. Plus, I've always been a fan of burying the lede. While the point I make above is correct, the real problem with saying there is a contradiction between believing "Global temperature cannot be measured accurately but global warming stopped in 1998" can be seen in the text of the paper:

A long-standing contrarian argument has been that the global temperature record is inaccurate and that therefore global warming cannot be measured accurately (Watts 2009).

Notice how this says "the global temperature record." All the issues the authors discuss are issues which affect the surface temperature record. The issues only affect terrestrial measurement. That is, the stated problems only arise from measurements taken on the planet's surface.

The problem is there is a thing called a satellite. It floats high above the Earth's surface in outer space doing things like taking measurements. A person who thinks there are too many confounding factors to accurately measure the planet's temperature from its surface could believe that satellite which is nowhere near the planet's surface is capable of accurately measuring those temperatures. That's not contradictory at all.

Are there some global warming skeptics who think the surface temperature record demonstrates a "pause" in global warming? Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is there are some who would say, "I don't trust the surface temperature record, but if we assumed it was correct, then there's a 'pause' in global warming." That's a somewhat nuanced view and the authors appear to have no interest in it as the reference they give for the idea global warming has "paused" is one Bob Carter, who wrote:

Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase (there was actually a slight decrease, though not at a rate that differs significantly from zero).

I should quickly clarify the link the authors give is broken. I've provided the correct link above. The URL given in the paper is:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personalview/3624242/There-IS-a-problem-with-global-warming...-it-stopped-in-1998.html

Which is missing a hyphen between the words "personal" and "view." Make of that what you will. The issue I want to highlight is while one might question using a quote from 10 years ago, this same person has written:

Though global average temperature may have warmed during the twentieth century, no direct instrumental records exist that demonstrate any such warming within an acceptable degree of probability.

You can see this post for a discussion of why his claim was bogus, but the point is Bob Carter has directly stated we cannot trust the temperature record.

I am sure John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky would cite that as proof he contradicts himself given the quote above in which he discusses what the surface temperature record shows. An alternative interpretation they would fail to examine is that of the nuanced position I expressed above - that Carter doesn't trust the surface temperature record but is still willing to discuss what it shows. This is unfortunate as everyone should understand you don't have to believe in something to claim it fails to support a person's views.

I'm going to stop here for today as I think this has run on long enough. There are still four more examples in the body of this paper. I'll try to discuss them tomorrow. In the meantime, you're welcome to talk about why you think any of the examples the authors offer are or are not contradictions which demonstrate global warming skeptics hold "incoherent" beliefs.

As a closing thought, people might want to look at what crazy things they can find global warming advocates saying over the last 20 years. John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky have shown they feel it is acceptable to cite any random nutjob from that far back to paint your critics as "incoherent," so have fun with it.

Say, is there anything which contradicts the idea climate scientists are being assassinated to keep them from warning the world about upcoming dangers?

4 comments

  1. Brandon
    The fact they are not contradictions is irrelevant. The paper is garbage and it was never intended for it to be analysed. It's sole purpose is to put the meme out there that anti- CAGW people are anti-science and are self-contradictory. Once implanted, it becomes another zombie like the hockey stick or 97%.
    The best name for documents by these authors I have seen is they are Lew paper, but you probably need to be British to understand the pun. Having that name stick will do a lot more to counter rubbish that Lewandowsky and Cook put out than comprehensive analysis of the myriad faults ever will. One good point is having the paper does more to discredit peer review than any of the earnest analytical criticisms.

  2. Some errors, but first I wish to highlight for anyone reading the use of 'begging the question'.

    "This raises the obvious question, "
    frequently people use this interchangeably with 'This begs the question', but instead the correct use is as done here.

    You say you do not wish to discuss something, then you proceed to do that at length.
    Also, I don't see why thinking that past warming was caused by a change in solar insolation would contradict belief in low sensitivity.
    Is it possible to dispute either the claim of a small change in solar, or that effect of such a change is same as current climate?

  3. MikeN, people using "begs the question" as though it means "raises the question" has irked me for quite some time. I get how people might not realize the correct meaning, but if you mean "raises the question," why wouldn't you just say that? To be fair though, I've probably slipped up myself on occasion.

    You say you do not wish to discuss something, then you proceed to do that at length.

    I know I said I wasn't going to discuss one example, but I proceeded by not discussing whether or not it was a contradiction. Is that what you're talking about or something else?

    Also, I don't see why thinking that past warming was caused by a change in solar insolation would contradict belief in low sensitivity.
    Is it possible to dispute either the claim of a small change in solar, or that effect of such a change is same as current climate?

    These are certainly other possibilities for reconciling the views. I think they are weaker positions as far as evidence goes, but there is nothing inherently wrong with them. I just didn't mention them because there are so many different ways to reconcile some of these "contradictions" I wouldn't be able to think of them all. I figured I'd just stick to the obvious and easy ones.

    I bet if you thought about it, you could find possibilities I didn't mention for other examples. I know the one I talked about in the last post with Nazis as a subject has a ton.

  4. Hmmm...do the predictions for imminent loss of Arctic sea ice and alternative predictions that it will persist for several decades constitute a contradiction in the same sense? Seems like it to me. But for some reason Cook & Co. chose not to mention such things.

    As you point out, though, the existence of contradictory positions between different members of a group, proves absolutely nothing beyond the fact that the group is not entirely homogeneous. One could say the same thing for, say, Clinton supporters, Trump supporters, anyone-but-Clinton-ites, anyone-but-Trump-ites, the climate-concerned, etc., etc., etc. Persons whose views on one topic tend to agree, may disagree on another topic. That's not insightful.

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