The Global Warming Policy Foundation is an organization of mainly economists dedicated to mucking up the development and advancement of good science-based policy related to climate change. It is a denialist “think” tank.
A couple of weeks ago, Swedish meteorologist Lennart Bengtsson joined the GWPF. This was a little surprising, but not totally surprising. It was surprising because Bengtsson is scientist and the foundation is anti-science and, as I noted, mostly economists. (Well, they are sort of like scientists too, but a different kind of science.) It was not surprising because Bengtsson has positioned himself as a “skeptic,” claiming that his skepticism is the good kind (all scientists are skeptical) but really, he has expressed doubt about the validity of much of the standing mainstream climate science, especially the use of models. He is a #Faupause-er, claiming that a decrease in the rate of increase of surface temperatures (which is only part of the global warming picture) suggests that global warming is less of a thing than we all know it is.
Then, just now, Bengtsson resigned from the GWPF citing harassment by scientists. One of the specific actions he refers to is a colleague suggesting he might withdraw as a co-author given Bengtsson’s affiliation with a rather rabid anti-science organization.
The denialists have taken off with this, following Bengtsson’s lead. From Bengtsson’s resignation letter:
I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. I see therefore no other way out therefore than resigning from GWPF. I had not expecting such an enormous world-wide pressure put at me from a community that I have been close to all my active life. Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship etc. I see no limit and end to what will happen. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy. I would never have expecting anything similar in such an original peaceful community as meteorology. Apparently it has been transformed in recent years.
Under these situation I will be unable to contribute positively to the work of GWPF and consequently therefore I believe it is the best for me to reverse my decision to join its Board at the earliest possible time.”
What happened here is simple to understand. A member of the scientific community who was retaining discredited ideas about climate change took one step too far, literally joining with the anti-science community. Colleagues complained about his choice, which is something they not only can, but should do. If the reports are correct, one of those individuals considered distancing himself from the GWPF, which is probably the ethical choice. In response, the denialist community, including Bengtsson (who has now apparently proven himself to be a member of that community) is calling foul. But really, what is the mainstream scientific community supposed to do? Is a professional gasp at a clearly inappropriate decision by a scientist really McCartyism? No, clearly it is not.
The Daily Mail, which I usually don’t refer to, claims that Bengtsson’s climate science colleagues inferred or stated that the mainstream science community is respectable, and Bengtsson’s move to join the GWPF was silly, and apparently one blogger described him as a crybaby. Some told him that the GWPF was a questionable organization. That sounds like a lot of people trying to impress on him that his legitimacy as a member of the scientific community may be affected by sidling up to an explicitly anti-science organization.
Rabett Run notes, “The short take on this is that Prof. Bengtsson ran into a wall of disgust from his colleagues which took him by surprise.”
Roger Pielke, Jr, who himself has had his work in climate science (he is an economist) criticized (legitimately) underscores the McCarthyism claim, and doubled down:
Unfortunately, “climate mccarthyism” is not so far off. It has been practiced for a while…
The main problem here is … that the elite in this community – including scientists, journalists, politicians — have endorsed the climate mccarthyism campaign, and are often its most vigorous participants…
The climate issue is coming to represent a globalized version of the US abortion debates. I tell my grad students that there is no use for policy analysts in the abortion debates. I should follow my own advice!
Hot Whopper’s Sou gives some examples of why a scientist might not want to be affiliated, directly or indirectly, with the GWPF:
As to why climate scientists might not want to be associated with the GWPF, this is a sample of the sort of nonsense that Nigel Lawson and his organisation are known for. On the IPCC:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which published on Friday the first instalment of its latest report, is a deeply discredited organisation
Nigel just made that up. The IPCC won a Nobel Peace Prize for heaven’s sake! How about this GWPF article – about the man deniers love to hate. (Archived here):
IS MICHAEL MANN DELUSIONAL OR A DELIBERATE LIAR?
In my Weekly Standard Climategate 2.0 article I refer to Michael “hockey stick” Mann as the Fredo of the climate mafia, because of his endless bluster and the obvious embarrassment he brings to his fellow scientists.
Expect the Bengtsson story to become denialist yammering fodder. Well, it already is. Expect more.
One of the complaints made be denialists is, apparently, that Bengtsson was given the shaft by the mainstream scientific community when a paper he submitted to IOP was rejected. Quotes from the peer reviewer comments were used to implicate IOP, the journal, and the reviewer in a McCarthy-istic campaign against Bengtsoon. It turns out that was a lie. The journal rejected Bengtsson’s paper because if fell short of standards, but encouraged him to bring it up to snuff with the implication they would look at it again.
There is a certain ethical question that has to be asked here; was the release of parts of a peer review OK? In any event, once it is released, the journal is obliged to address it, and in so doing, they have to check with the reviewer to see if the confidential review can be released. Well, all that happened, and IOP has put out a press release providing documentation of what really went on behind the scenes.
Here it is:
Statement from IOP Publishing on story in The Times
16 May 2014Bristol, UK
Dr. Nicola Gulley, Editorial Director at IOP Publishing, says, “The draft journal paper by Lennart Bengtsson that Environmental Research Letters declined to publish, which was the subject of this morning’s front page story of The Times, contained errors, in our view did not provide a significant advancement in the field, and therefore could not be published in the journal.”
“The decision not to publish had absolutely nothing to do with any ‘activism’ on the part of the reviewers or the journal, as suggested in The Times’ article; the rejection was solely based on the content of the paper not meeting the journal’s high editorial standards, ” she continues.
“The referees selected to review this paper were of the highest calibre and are respected members of the international science community. The comments taken from the referee reports were taken out of context and therefore, in the interests of transparency, we have worked with the reviewers to make the full reports available.”
The full quote actually said “Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side.”
“As the referees report state, ‘The overall innovation of the manuscript is very low.’ This means that the study does not meet ERL’s requirement for papers to significantly advance knowledge of the field.”
“Far from denying the validity of Bengtsson’s questions, the referees encouraged the authors to provide more innovative ways of undertaking the research to create a useful advance.”
“As the report reads, ‘A careful, constructive, and comprehensive analysis of what these ranges mean, and how they come to be different, and what underlying problems these comparisons bring would indeed be a valuable contribution to the debate.”
“Far from hounding ‘dissenting’ views from the field, Environmental Research Letters positively encourages genuine scientific innovation that can shed light on complicated climate science.”
“The journal Environmental Research Letters is respected by the scientific community because it plays a valuable role in the advancement of environmental science – for unabashedly not publishing oversimplified claims about environmental science, and encouraging scientific debate.”
“With current debate around the dangers of providing a false sense of ‘balance’ on a topic as societally important as climate change, we’re quite astonished that The Times has taken the decision to put such a non-story on its front page.
Please find the reviewer report below quoted in The Times, exactly as sent to Lennart Bengttsson.
We are getting permission from the other referees for this paper to make their reports available as soon as possible.
COMMENTS TO THE AUTHOR(S)
The manuscript uses a simple energy budget equation (as employed e.g. by Gregory et al 2004, 2008, Otto et al 2013) to test the consistency between three recent “assessments” of radiative forcing and climate sensitivity (not really equilibrium climate sensitivity in the case of observational studies).
The study finds significant differences between the three assessments and also finds that the independent assessments of forcing and climate sensitivity within AR5 are not consistent if one assumes the simple energy balance model to be a perfect description of reality.
The overall innovation of the manuscript is very low, as the calculations made to compare the three studies are already available within each of the sources, most directly in Otto et al.
The finding of differences between the three “assessments” and within the assessments (AR5), when assuming the energy balance model to be right, and compared to the CMIP5 models are reported as apparent inconsistencies.
The paper does not make any significant attempt at explaining or understanding the differences, it rather puts out a very simplistic negative message giving at least the implicit impression of “errors” being made within and between these assessments, e.g. by emphasising the overlap of authors on two of the three studies.
What a paper with this message should have done instead is recognising and explaining a series of “reasons” and “causes” for the differences.
- The comparison between observation based estimates of ECS and TCR (which would have been far more interesting and less impacted by the large uncertainty about the heat content change relative to the 19th century) and model based estimates is comparing apples and pears, as the models are calculating true global means, whereas the observations have limited coverage. This difference has been emphasised in a recent contribution by Kevin Cowtan, 2013.
- The differences in the forcing estimates used e.g. between Otto et al 2013 and AR5 are not some “unexplainable change of mind of the same group of authors” but are following different tow different logics, and also two different (if only slightly) methods of compiling aggregate uncertainties relative to the reference period, i.e. the Otto et al forcing is deliberately “adjusted” to represent more closely recent observations, whereas AR5 has not put so much weight on these satellite observations, due to still persisting potential problems with this new technology
- The IPCC process itself explains potential inconsistencies under the strict requirement of a simplistic energy balance: The different estimates for temperature, heat uptake, forcing, and ECS and TCR are made within different working groups, at slightly different points in time, and with potentially different emphasis on different data sources. The IPCC estimates of different quantities are not based on single data sources, nor on a fixed set of models, but by construction are expert based assessments based on a multitude of sources. Hence the expectation that all expert estimates are completely consistent within a simple energy balance model is unfunded from the beginning.
- Even more so, as the very application of the Kappa model (the simple energy balance model employed in this work, in Otto et al, and Gregory 2004) comes with a note of caution, as it is well known (and stated in all these studies) to underestimate ECS, compared to a model with more time-scales and potential non-linearities (hence again no wonder that CMIP5 doesn’t fit the same ranges)
Summarising, the simplistic comparison of ranges from AR4, AR5, and Otto et al, combined with the statement they they are inconsistent is less then helpful, actually it is harmful as it opens the door for oversimplified claims of “errors” and worse from the climate sceptics media side.
One cannot and should not simply interpret the IPCCs ranges for AR4 or 5 as confidence intervals or pdfs and hence they are not directly comparable to observation based intervals (as e.g. in Otto et al).
In the same way that one cannot expect a nice fit between observational studies and the CMIP5 models.
A careful, constructive, and comprehensive analysis of what these ranges mean, and how they come to be different, and what underlying problems these comparisons bring would indeed be a valuable contribution to the debate.
I have rated the potential impact in the field as high, but I have to emphasise that this would be a strongly negative impact, as it does not clarify anything but puts up the (false) claim of some big inconsistency, where no consistency was to be expected in the first place.
And I can’t see an honest attempt of constructive explanation in the manuscript.
Thus I would strongly advise rejecting the manuscript in its current form.