A Few Things Ill Considered

Classic Pielke

Nature magazine recently published a paper showing that Antarctica has actually been warming about .1oC/decade since the 1950′s. It was the cover story:

A new reconstruction of Antarctic surface temperature trends for 1957-2006, reported this week by Steig et al., suggests that overall the continent is warming by about 0.1 °C per decade. The cover illustrates the geographic extent of warming, with the ‘hotspot’ peninsula and West Antarctica shown red against the white ice-covered ocean.

That the antarctic seemed to be slightly cooling despite elevated greenhouse gas levels has been a standard denialist talking point for a very long time.

Observing slight cooling in a region when you expect slight warming is not necessarily an indication of trouble with your understanding of the physics involved or with construction of the models. It could simply reflect the high degree of uncertainty in the data and the high degree of natural variability, especially in regional or short term averages.

This doesn’t stop Roger Pielke Jr from hitching a ride on this particular denialist band wagon, finding his angle by juxtaposing quotes from his favorite target scientists who on the one hand are not tossing their GCM’s because of little or no warming in the Antarctic and on the other hand are not tossing them when some warming is observed.

Real Climate talks about that paper here and I recommend reading that in preference to the media stories about it.

The issue boils down to a bunch of semantic quibbling about what it means to be “consistent with” a climate model, and really hinges on the fact that it takes decades of quality observations to determine how well your model is performing. It also lies in a severly flawed “apples to oranges” comparison. That is, the IPCC presents the results of ensemble model runs, dozens of them all averaged out. Roger (and the run of the mill denialists) compare that to the single instance represented by observations of our one and only planet. It is really like looking at my model predicting that 7 is the most likely roll of the dice and yelling “aha!” when I actually roll an 8. Roger can’t get his head around that one.

Okay, that’s just standard Pielke Jr, what is the “classic” part?

Well, Eric Steig, one of the authors, pops in on that thread and says, among other points, the following:

But there is a larger point here that you seem to be missing. The entire question of whether models are “consistent” with data is a poor question. A good question is in what ways are the models inconsistent with the data.

So, says Eric, the whole point of the post is, well pointless. How does Roger take it?

“Thanks much for these comments and clarifications. In particular, I strongly agree with you when you write [quote above]“

Okay, got that? He has just published a post entirely about this “consistent with” question, and it is a favorite topic of his from the recent past, and without blinking an eye, he “strongly agrees” that it is “a poor question”. Irony meters smoking yet? Well, this is “the Honest Broker” here, so that is nothing! A follow up comment of his is an attempt to further prove his (admittedly poorly posed) point AND his immediate next post is titled “More on Antarctica and ‘Consisten with’“! (And no, it is not a reflection on how we could all be spending our time more productively discussing meaningful topics.)

I still watch Prometheus for its occasional entertainment value, but stuff like this shows his disingenuous motivations and blatantly hypocritical methods, which is why there is rarely any quality discussion there anymore. And, considering what used to be there, that is a real shame.

His blog is supposed to lament the politicization of science. Instead it reads more like a “How To” manual written by a master! This man deserves the label “Honest Broker” like Fox News deserves the slogan “Fair and Balanced”.


  1. #1 John Mashey
    January 25, 2009

    1) If one goes to Prometheus, a search for beetle or beetles yields no discussions.

    2) This seems slightly odd in light of Deaths of trees ‘catastrophic’
    Lodgepole die-off imperils recreation, supplies of water
    , which says:

    “Every large, mature lodgepole pine forest in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead within three to five years, killed in a mountain pine beetle infestation unprecedented in the state.”

    I’ve posted some more detailed comments there.

    This of course, is due in part to AGW’s classic signature of reducing coldspells that suppress the beetles. I think all Coloradoans should be aware of RP’s efforts to favor adaptation. COlorado can certain adapt to loss of lodgepoles (and spruce, and…) to the various beetles.

  2. #2 Eric Steig
    January 27, 2009

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.