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It’s been a bad week for that “certainty” thing…

[I have been informed by two commenters that my post below implies that global warming is not occurring. I don’t see the implication myself but an author is not always the best judge of whether he has precisely expressed his own meaning so I’ll make it explicit at the outset. Global warming is happening and human activity is adding, in various ways — through industrialization, automobilization, deforestation, and animal husbandry, to give an unexhaustive list — to the naturally occurring changes, changes that have been documented in various ways as having shifted from ice ages to temperatures above what we are currently experiencing. I do not dispute this and nothing that I’ve written below should be read to be implying otherwise. My sole point is that we are less certain today about specific aspects of those changes that are occurring than we were last week. I hope this clarifies that point.

Also, “certainty” is perhaps a bad choice of words, as it may imply “absolute, 100% certainty” whereas science speaks, more usually, in various degrees of probability. I meant merely to speak of degrees of certainty, rather than absolute certainty. Both articles linked to below mention that the degree of certainty, probability, likelihood (or any other term one finds preferable to “certainty”) has been significantly reduced by recent findings. Hope that helps]

For those who think the climate modelers have a single clue, there’s this, from CO2 Science:

In an intriguing Climate Change report in Science, Wentz et al. (2007) note that the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, as well as various climate modeling analyses, predict an increase in precipitation on the order of 1 to 3% per °C of surface global warming. Hence, they decided to see what has happened in the real world in this regard over the last 19 years (1987-2006) of supposedly unprecedented global warming, when data from the Global Historical Climatology Network and satellite measurements of the lower troposphere have indicated a global temperature rise on the order of 0.20°C per decade. Using satellite observations obtained from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I), the four Remote Sensing Systems scientists derived precipitation trends for the world’s oceans over this period; and using data obtained from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project that were acquired from both satellite and rain gauge measurements, they derived precipitation trends for the earth’s continents. Appropriately combining the results of these two endeavors, they then derived a real-world increase in precipitation on the order of 7% per °C of surface global warming, which is somewhere between 2.3 and 7 times larger than what is predicted by state-of-the-art climate models.

Um, okay. I guess those computer models have this global climate change nailed down solid. They’re only a little off, after all. They figured that the only way to account for the massive underestimation of precipitation was a 19 year decline in wind velocities…except, imagine that:

But when looking at the past 19 years of SSM/I wind retrievals, they found just the opposite, i.e., an increase in global wind speeds.

Ouch! Well, maybe that doesn’t make all that much difference. After all, at most, the actual, measured precipitation only amounted to, at most, seven times what the model predicted and, ok, the wind thing didn’t work out quite as expected…the opposite of what was expected, actually…but hey…maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds…

They also rightly state that this dramatic difference between the real world of nature and the virtual world of climate modeling “has enormous impact,” concluding that the questions raised by the discrepancy “are far from being settled.”

Moving on from precipitation to that alarming slow-down of the Atlantic flow that we hear so much about. Seems the certainty about that has taken a significant enough hit to get mentioned in the L. A. Times:

A massive ocean circulation pattern that plays a crucial role in shaping the world’s climate may not have been slowing down over the last few decades as scientists previously believed, according to a study released Thursday.

The perceived slowdown had been considered alarming support for computer predictions that global warming would disrupt the planet’s heat regulation.

In a single year of measurements, published in today’s issue of the journal Science, the scientists found enough normal variation in the pattern to suggest that previous studies were premature in asserting a long-term trend.

So then, perhaps there isn’t quite so much certainty as we’ve been led to believe. Not only are models…um…lacking in a certain level of accuracy but actual measurements upon which so much alarm has been based could be just so much bullshit. As in the case of the precipitation discrepency above, scientists haven’t got a clue as to how to account for the wide variation discovered in this recent test…but they DO still believe that it is slowing down:

The researchers had no definite explanation for the wide variation in flow, but Kanzow surmised that the dynamics of wave movements, eddies and currents that interfere with the circulation pattern could be more influential than previously thought.

Despite their own findings, many of the researchers believe that a slowdown is occurring. But they lack proof.

“[N]o definite explanation”, “surmise[]”, “could be”, “Dispite their own findings, many of the researchers believe”…

Sounds more like religion than science to me.


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8 Comments in 8 threads.»

Comment by Paul Watson
2007-08-19 14:08:28

Absolutely

 
Comment by Craig R. Harmon
2007-08-19 14:04:53

Paul,

I see your point. The “single clue” part, I guess, does give the impression that I’m saying that none of the models used by climate scientists do a reliable job of predicting anything.

Yes, scientists, when reporting for one another’s perusal, are usually much more circumspect about what their claims are than media reports sometimes are and both are often more circumspect than politicians are when trying to sell this or that policy as the solution to the problems.

You may be right about CO2 Science.

Overall, I think we’ve come to a satisfactory understanding. Cheers! Raise a tall, frosty glass of juice with me (we tee-totalers gotta stick together)!

 
Comment by Paul Watson
2007-08-19 13:29:58

Craig,
Thanks for the addendum. And you’re right, authors never notice if they’re using loaded language because they know what they mean. For example, take a look at the first sentence. The one about climate modellers. Saying they don’t have one clue, to me, clealy said ‘the whole thing is rubbish’. Now, I admit I may have been being oversensitive, and you’ve clarified that wasn’t what you meant, but that start coloured my percepton of the whole piece and made everything else seem slanted. It didn’t help that a lot of outright deniers use similar language about certainty, i.e. as we’re not certain, there’s no point doing anything because it might not be real (incidentally, it might turn out not to be true, but that would mean a lot of science would need to get rewritten [which has happened before and I’m sure will again]).
And I was careful to mention scientific articles as the normal media articles are far less careful about what’s likely, what’s probable and what’s possible if absolutely everything goes as badly as it can (which is what kes the headline).

So thank you for the clarification. Now back to the discussion.
North Atlantic Current I can’t coment on as this is still a work in progress with the collection of decent data that will either support or refute the theory. But at the moment, this is still more hypothesis than theory so I’ll leave it alone.
On the precipitation, you are right that this does not conform to the predictions. However, the temperature does. So that doesn’t mean the models have been trashed. It does mean that they shouldn’t be used for predicting rainfall and it does weaken the models, but they are still making accurate predictions for other, important metrics so maybe they shouldn’t be thrown out altogether.
And just a minor point, but given some of the things on the CO2 Science website, I think maybe adding just a pinch of salt to their own certainty that this disproves anything might be an idea. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but arguments on both sides should be subjected tthe same standards, shouldn’t they?

 
Comment by Craig R. Harmon
2007-08-19 12:30:35

I have added a note to the beginning of the post that is an attempt to clarify some of the issues raised by Admin and Paul Watson. Hopefully, this helps.

 
Comment by Craig R. Harmon
2007-08-19 12:07:56

Paul W.,

Hi. The articles, both the CO2 Science and the L. A. Times article, indicate a definite lessening of certainty. What can I say? It doesn’t seem, to me anyway, to matter much whether the certainty was 100% and it was reduced from there or the level of certainty was something lower than 100% (making it, I guess, more properly called probability). In either case, that level has been lowered significantly in both cases. No?

I don’t know, frankly, what a 2.3 fold to a possible 7 fold increase in precipitation for every degree Celsius warming might mean globally. It seems to me that it might mean increased flooding in some places. It might also mean a decrease in desert areas, meaning more farmable land. I don’t know that it is all pessimistic, but then, there’s lots that I don’t know. My point, as I mentioned above, was not to say that things aren’t as bad as was thought. Merely to say that our level of certainty/probability about what scientists have been saying has decreased. Don’t like “certainty”? Replace with “guestimate” if you find that to be a better word. My point is, they’ve been wrong even about what they thought were real world data that they’ve been depending upon, and the models have been fairly well trashed in respect to precipitation estimates. Am I wrong?

I’m sorry. You’re going to have to show me where my article “definitely implies that warming isn’t happening”. I don’t see it. I do, in fact, believe that global warming is happening and that human produced greenhouse effect is occurring so, if I’ve implied the opposite, it was unintentional. I merely wished to imply that our level of certainty about two specific aspects of climate change have been significantly reduced.

 
Comment by Paul Watson
2007-08-19 11:38:41

Craig,
I’m pretty sure admin is Tom Baker.
How much data isn’t in doubt? Still the vast majority of the data. The Gulf Stream failure has aways been represented in every scientific article I’ve read as a possibility, not a certainty so there was no certainty there to remove.
As for the rainfall, it appears that the models weren’t pessimistic enough. Guess that means the problem is actually worse and action is even more urgent.
And science is never certain. There are anomalous results from the movement of galaxies and the ‘Pioneer effect’ on those long range spacecraft. However, that doesn’t mean gravity is wrong.
Your article definitely implies that these findings prove global warming isn’t happening. If that wasn’t your intent, you might want to look at how it’s written because that was the very clear message I got from it as well

 
Comment by Craig R. Harmon
2007-08-19 11:11:39

Hi, admin (who are you REALLY?).

NO Craig the difference between religion and science is that as evidence is introduced scientist refine their models with facts while religion continues to ignore reality in the face of them.

The language used, that I quoted, does sounded like religion to me. In any case, my point is that the certainty that has been thought to be warranted in respect to these issues specifically mentioned in my post has been called into question, indeed, has been shown to have been based upon faulty modeling and upon poor reasoning from snapshot readings where continuous readings would have given a better understanding of what goes on in the Atlantic flow. That’s all. Of course, any certainty expressed by religionists, at least regarding things that are mere speculation, are equally errant.

So they got data that says their model on precipitation was to low. Now they will figure out why. And the temperature still is increasing.

Yes. Now they’ve got to figure out what the hell is wrong with their models and adjust their supposed knowledge of what they thought was going on in the real world. Which is another way of saying that, well, it’s been a bad week for that “certainty” thing…but I repeat myself.

So they get ONE YEARS worth of data on the Atlantic Circulation pattern that makes them rethink some o f their ideas. And the temperature is still increasing. Oh yeah and of course the coauthor of the reports says we can’;t say they were wrong either about the slowdown.

Well, all I’ve claimed is that the level of certainty about these specific things has been found to be unwarranted. I didn’t say that they were wrong.

Oh yeah and that same article also mentions that more precipitation means warmer water which could which means the findings in part A of your article are even scarier - not less.

Well, I made no claims about how “scary” the findings were. Actually, it seems to me that there may be both good and bad things about an increase of global precipitation.

Oh yeah and another thing, this study also doesn’t prove or disprove anything as far as the ocean slowdown. It is a different measurement. Snapshots in time vs a measurements for a year. Of the course of year there could be lots of variation yet over time the trend could be real. We will only know when the data has been collected over several years. That’s how science works.

I didn’t say it proved anything about the ocean slowdown. I merely claim that it’s been a bad week for…well…no point repeating myself again.

What bugs me about your piece Craig is that you pick on a few things where the models are being refined and use it as a way to say ha well maybe Global Warming isn’t real either. You’re magnifying tiny bits in a massive amount of evidence as if somehow if they are not right, the whole thing probably isn’t. It’s factitious and self serving.

I’ve re-read my post. I don’t find anywhere where I’ve said that maybe Global warming isn’t real. I haven’t actually said anything about any of the “massive amount of evidence”, whether right or wrong, other than the evidence actually discussed and the articles I linked to were the ones that called our former supposed certainty into question.

Don’t shoot me. I’m just the messenger.

Then again cherry picking certain parts that fit a world view and ignoring the rest of the data when it doesn’t match, well That sounds like religion to me

Well, saying that I’ve said things that I haven’t said sounds like, well, bad argument, to me.

Have a nice day.

 
Comment by admin
2007-08-19 07:47:32

NO Craig the difference between religion and science is that as evidence is introduced scientist refine their models with facts while religion continues to ignore reality in the face of them.

So they got data that says their model on precipitation was to low. Now they will figure out why. And the temperature still is increasing.

So they get ONE YEARS worth of data on the Atlantic Circulation pattern that makes them rethink some o f their ideas. And the temperature is still increasing. Oh yeah and of course the coauthor of the reports says we can’;t say they were wrong either about the slowdown.

Oh yeah and that same article also mentions that more precipitation means warmer water which could which means the findings in part A of your article are even scarier - not less.

Oh yeah and another thing, this study also doesn’t prove or disprove anything as far as the ocean slowdown. It is a different measurement. Snapshots in time vs a measurements for a year. Of the course of year there could be lots of variation yet over time the trend could be real. We will only know when the data has been collected over several years. That’s how science works.

What bugs me about your piece Craig is that you pick on a few things where the models are being refined and use it as a way to say ha well maybe Global Warming isn’t real either. You’re magnifying tiny bits in a massive amount of evidence as if somehow if they are not right, the whole thing probably isn’t. It’s factitious and self serving.

Then again cherry picking certain parts that fit a world view and ignoring the rest of the data when it doesn’t match, well That sounds like religion to me

 
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