No, they are not.
The question was raised in July in a paper by Spencer and Braswell, published in the Peer Reviewed Journal Remote Sensing called “On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance.” (See this.) Spencer and Braswell’s paper claimed that the Earth’s temperature was not really rising due to fossil carbon in the form of CO2 being pushed into atmosphere. Rather, they said, any variation we see in global temperature is a result of natural cycles and have a lot to do with clouds. Spencer and Braswell’s paper was very obviously flawed and this was pointed out in many places. But it wasn’t just flawed. It was so badly flawed that the question was asked, “What were the editors of this journal thinking?”
Well, less than a week ago, the Editor-in-Chief of that journal resigned his position as a way of both admitting and trying to rectify the effects of having overseen one of the worst blunders possible in peer reviewed research publication: Being tricked by nefarious authors (Spencer and Braswell) into publishing an unpublishable paper.
Papers that could be considered unpublishable, depending on who you ask, are of course published all the time, but almost all of them have some value and are at least an honest attempt at conducting and presenting real research. But the Spencer and Braswell paper is not that. It isn’t the outcome of incompetence, it does not represent a difference of opinion, it isn’t even a poorly considered hypothesis. Rather, “On the Misdiagnosis of Surface Temperature Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance” is a bald faced attempt to make stuff up in order to cloud (pardon the pun) the discussion of anthropogenic climate change with manufactured dissent. It is the sort of thing that makes intelligent observers ask “Who is paying them to do this, and why?” It is the sort of thing that the authors should lose their academic appointments over.
Nonetheless, scientists can never leave well enough alone! Even though the paper was obviously flawed, and the resignation of the journal’s editor was a powerful signal that should chagrin even the members of the press who insist on keeping alive the debate over whether bigfoot is real1, there is an idea in Spencer and Braswell’s paper that is sort of testable. And some scientist went ahead and did just that, with the results being released just moments ago.
The paper is “Cloud variations and the Earth’s energy budget” by Andy Dessler of Texas A&M University.
In his paper, Dessler starts with the concept of Energy Balance, where tracking the change in the balance involves looking at “deposits” (of energy) and “withdrawals.”
The flawed and discredited paper by Spencer and Braswell was based in part on a paper previously published, and also seemingly rather flawed, by Lindzen and Choi2. This flaw made the “deposits” part of the equation that is caused by clouds too big. The papers use clouds and oceans as sources of atmospheric heat, and they assumed incorrect values for those climate features.
Dessler uses actual measurements and real data to make a superior and scientifically valid model with correct values for these “deposits” that can be and have been independently verified. The result is a pretty good match between model and reality and indicate that medium to short term (“ENSO”) climate changes are primarily due to the exchange of heat between the atmosphere and the oceans.
Dessler also shoes that the models presented in Spencer and Braswell’s paper were inappropriately cherry picked from a larger set of models which they did in fact look at, chosen in order to rather dishonestly support their invalid point. In sum, Dessler demonstrates that there is no merit to the suggestions that clouds cause climate change, no merit to the claims that climate models as a whole are somehow wrong, and no evidence that revisions to mainstream climate science are needed.
Here is a link that should get you to a presentation by Dessler summarizing his paper.
1No, Bigfoot is NOT real. And no, the press I’m speaking of does not try to keep that idea alive. I am making a reference to a larger idea here.
2That paper also has a seemingly dicey publication history having, according to rumor … and if you know, correct me if I’m wrong … been rejected by one or more key journals before ending up where it did.
Dessler, A. (2011). Cloud variations and the Earth’s energy budget Geophysical Research Letters DOI: 10.1029/2011GL049236