A Few Things Ill Considered

Breaking news from Marc Morano

Marc Morono (sick) breathlessly announces that Gavin Schmidt has finally admitted that weather is chaotic and GCMs can not model it.

And yes, that is about as shocking an admission as water is wet.

Here is the incriminating quote:

“The problem with climate prediction and projections going out to 2030 and 2050 is that we don’t anticipate that they can be tested in the way you can test a weather forecast. It takes about 20 years to evaluate because there is so much unforced variability in the system which we can’t predict — the chaotic component of the climate system — which is not predictable beyond two weeks, even theoretically. That is something that we can’t really get a handle on,”

Pretty shocking, eh? Climate models can not predict short term natural variability (aka weather).

But wait, I thought the (statistically nonexistent) short term stasis in warming was a failed model prediction. Denialist cake is the best, the more you eat it, the more of it you have.

Or something….

Comments

  1. #1 Dan Satterfield
    July 7, 2009

    and don’t forget water is a pollutant!
    Thanks for a good laugh. Morano gets far more attention than he deserves though…

    Dan

  2. #2 Mark Hadfield
    July 7, 2009

    It’s not the ignorance of people like this that bothers me, it’s the willfulness of the ignorance. If he actually tried to understand what Gavin Schmidt was telling him, he might learn something. But no.

  3. #3 thingsbreak
    July 7, 2009

    Morano aside, that was an interesting (the actual interview) read. Thanks for pointing it out.

  4. #4 Adam
    July 7, 2009

    Wow, I actually had no idea that Gavin Schmidt is English. Whoops!

  5. #5 Aaron
    July 8, 2009

    …ok, so this person is not the poster child for an intelligent conversation. Does this change the fact that current climate models CAN’T be checked with real data? Or that there isn’t a ‘control’ regime from which to extract a truly background-free CO2 signal in the global mean temperature?

    You guys should sure-up your argument a bit before picking on those you see beneath you.

  6. #6 coby
    July 8, 2009

    Aaron:
    “Does this change the fact that current climate models CAN’T be checked with real data?”

    This is not a fact.

    “Or that there isn’t a ‘control’ regime from which to extract a truly background-free CO2 signal in the global mean temperature?”

    You mean like another earth to play around with?

  7. #7 Aaron
    July 8, 2009

    How is it not a fact that the climate in 2050, as being modeled today, can be checked with real data? As far as I can tell, my physics department has not mastered the science of time travel. Please let me know if your department has. The only period of complete data is the past 20 years or so. Some of that data agrees with models, but it’s hard to say why it agrees. It is a several thousand parameter model for a 9 or 10 order of magnitude larger parameter space. It’s not hard to press the right buttons when the wrongs ones aren’t in your model.

    As far as ‘control’ goes, yes, it would be nice to have another earth to goof around with. It’s so nice that every other scientific field uses such a ‘control’. The vast majority of global mean temperature signal is ‘flooded’ by CO2 since the industrial revolution. So how to we deconvolute the CO2 signal if we can’t control for it?

    The answer from your other posts seems to be ‘well, science is hard’ which is true, but completely off the point. If it is indeed so hard to find such a signal, and in infinitely simpler systems it can be, why make the argument that it’s importance relative to other contributions (solar flux, el nino, cloud cover, etc.) is undeniable? It’s a very poorly constructed scientific argument to say the least.

    What seems to be the most baseless aspect of this and many other arguments for policy change in the US and elsewhere is the importance of models. Well, the over importance of them really. Models for different scientific systems are used in every field, but in all of them one still needs to verify predictions with real data. 20 or 30 years worth of suitable data doesn’t cut the mustard to predict 50 or 100 years into the future. Especially since one cannot parse out the true contribution of CO2 to the global mean temperature signal from ‘the noise’.

  8. #8 dhogaza
    July 8, 2009

    How is it not a fact that the climate in 2050, as being modeled today, can be checked with real data? As far as I can tell, my physics department has not mastered the science of time travel.

    It’s called “paleoclimatology”, and models do a good job of recreating much of what we know about it.

  9. #9 coby
    July 8, 2009

    Aaron:

    “How is it not a fact that the climate in 2050, as being modeled today, can be checked with real data?”

    Sorry, this is not what you said at all. However, this new statement is certainly true. The best way to test current models is by hind casting and comparing modeled results with actual measurements. Hind casts of the 20th century are very successful for the crude indicators like global temperature averages. There are many other features of modeled climate that can be compared with actual observations, such as diurnal cycles, lapse rates, stratospheric temperatures, seasonal cycles, response to large volcanic eruptions, major ocean currents and precipitation patterns. These are the kinds of tests I was thinking of when I disagreed with your very general dismissal of testing climate models.

    “As far as ‘control’ goes, yes, it would be nice to have another earth to goof around with. It’s so nice that every other scientific field uses such a ‘control’.”

    Sure, “every scientific field”. Evolutionary biology, cosmology, geophysics etc, etc… They all have control systems to play around with. I don’t think so.

    “The vast majority of global mean temperature signal is ‘flooded’ by CO2 since the industrial revolution. So how to we deconvolute the CO2 signal if we can’t control for it?”

    The only way is through modeling. If you reject the concept of modeling then you do not have the first most basic grasp of what science is. No one says it’s easy and no one says our understanding is complete, but you need to come up with much more informed objections that demonstrate a grasp of what is understood if you want to be taken very seriously.

    Climate models do not have to be very complex to be generally informative. You should check out Robert Grumbine’s series on simple climate models. This is a summary post with links, though it may not include the latest articles. I also recommend Spencer Weart’s History of Global Warming. This concept did not arise out of opaque and complex computer models.

    “The answer from your other posts seems to be ‘well, science is hard’ which is true, but completely off the point. If it is indeed so hard to find such a signal, and in infinitely simpler systems it can be, why make the argument that it’s importance relative to other contributions (solar flux, el nino, cloud cover, etc.) is undeniable? It’s a very poorly constructed scientific argument to say the least.”

    Well, I do not recall making the argument that it is simply undeniable on its face that other influences are dominating. However, massive amounts of hard work have in fact been done, and the only persistent arguments out there are in fact no more than pure denial. There is certainly the possiblity of new dramatic findings overturning some very basic conclusions, but at this stage it is vanishingly unlikely that the current climate change is not anthropogenic.

    “What seems to be the most baseless aspect of this and many other arguments for policy change in the US and elsewhere is the importance of models. Well, the over importance of them really. Models for different scientific systems are used in every field, but in all of them one still needs to verify predictions with real data. 20 or 30 years worth of suitable data doesn’t cut the mustard to predict 50 or 100 years into the future. Especially since one cannot parse out the true contribution of CO2 to the global mean temperature signal from ‘the noise’.”

    If this were an abstract scientific question then I would agree we should all just keep up on the journals and wait to see if the planet warms dangerously or not, but the fact of the matter is there is a great deal at stake. Frankly, I find it hard to understand how anyone can not see that uncertainty is not your friend in determining what action to take in the face of risk. Right now, the relevant action is actually well underway: we are dramatically increasing CO2 levels. If there is great uncertainty, then this action should cease until the models are good enough to be 99% confident there is no danger. Practical concerns and political realities aside, what your argument should be advocating is a cessation of CO2 now, wait 50 years to see if the models are correct, and then decide if we can safely pump CO2 into the atmosphere or not.

    Back here in reality, we have no rational choice but to judiciously chose our course of action based on the knowledge and understanding we have right now.

    Thanks for the comments.

  10. #10 Aaron
    July 8, 2009

    Coby,

    there are a great many presumptions you make in this argument. First and foremost is that there is a great deal at stake. But there is a great deal at stake in many fields, yet we do not say ‘well the scientific method should be bypassed because of the importance of this issue’. Say cancer research. Couldn’t we just bypass some clinical tests and get ‘experimental’ drugs right into the market where we could see if they work or not? Certainly cancer is a pressing issue to humanity.

    Second, if you don’t know the ability of these models to predict the climate properly because you are using ill-conditioned and indirect data whose uncertainty and associated propagated errors in such climate models is poor-defined, how do you even know that there is so much at stake? Maybe there is a 1 in 100,000 chance that what you think is at stake is truly at risk. Maybe it’s more. But to make such a claim as though it is a fact of some kind doesn’t seem complete truthful nor is it consistent with the message you give on your other posts. If this science is truly that difficult, and I think it’s even more difficult, how have we come to a point where we know what’s stake without enough direct, well-conditioned and useful data?

    Third, and this is the kicker, you conflate modeling with theory. There is nothing basic about modeling. It is the utilization of computer algorithms to calculate stuff. Theory is basic. It’s just as basic as experiments for that matter. But modeling is not basic. It’s what climate researchers do because there is little else to be done. If that were true, could we say that Newton or Einstein or Euler didn’t have a form grasp of science because they didn’t model physical systems?

    Fourth, this whole argument boils down to ‘what else can we do?’ and you know what, I have no idea what else to do. But at least I admit to the uncertainty in my position. All this about so many people working hard to make it work is great and all, but it doesn’t make them right. The ONLY way to test a model is with real, direct, well-conditioned and understood data. Not data that is just lying around. That’s the way science is done in reality. If you would like, I can give you a tour around my lab. We’ll show you how it’s done…

  11. #11 Mal Adapted
    July 8, 2009

    Coby, while gratuitous snark may not advance the scientific argument, I did get a wicked chuckle out of “Marc Morono (sick)”. Snap!

  12. #12 dhogaza
    July 8, 2009

    If that were true, could we say that Newton or Einstein or Euler didn’t have a form grasp of science because they didn’t model physical systems?

    But they did build models. Newtonian mechanics *is* a mathematical model of how objects interact …

  13. #13 dhogaza
    July 8, 2009

    The ONLY way to test a model is with real, direct, well-conditioned and understood data.

    And who are you to say they don’t?

    The entire anti-model rant is a bit disgusting. The basic approach used by climate models is no different than the early, primitive models used in the Manhattan project and later during research into the hydrogen bomb. Modeling showed that Teller’s first design for the hydrogen bomb wouldn’t work. Modeling based on better physics pointed the way to the first “Super”, the Mike shot. Earlier fission work depended less on models, but that had more to do with available computing power (rooms full of computers – i.e. *people* – computing on mechanical calculators, then the very first general-purpose computers) than any aversion to modeling. Today, our nuclear weapons program is entirely dependent on modeling, as we no longer test.

    The way experiments are formed to test climate models varies from they way lab experiments are designed, by necessity. But experiments have been run, nonetheless.

    I love it when bloggers wander into the house claiming to be know more about climate science than those working in the field, displaying ignorance right and left.

  14. #14 Aaron Rury
    July 9, 2009

    The confusion still abounds.

    This is not a rant for one. Second, it’s most certainly not anti-models. Models are very important for determining what happens in experiments.

    But what Newton came up with is not a model.

    It is a theory.

    There is an inherent difference that you seem to be missing between these two concepts. There is no new theory contained in global warming research. It is the application of known theory to a particular part of a physical system. More specifically, it is the model of carbon dioxide forced increase of the global mean temperature using the laws of spectroscopy, statistical physics, atmospheric physics and thermodynamics. But this is very different from what Newton did. He made very general statements about the world around us and how those statements manifest themselves in phenomena we see. F=ma does not necessitate a model system in which to be true.

    What is becoming entertaining to me is that you are making my argument for me. The example of the atomic bomb and the Manhattan project is exactly what I saying needs to be done with respect to climate research of global warming. The models proved to be useful because Fermi and others could do controlled experiments on the chain reactions that lead to an atomic explosion. Do you think they built that giant graphite neutron reactor at the University of Chicago for fun? No they did it to test the models that were being produced. They also did numerous other tests there and Los Almos. And I’m sure the models showed that taking theoretical steps in certain directions might not be fruitful, but I am also certain that just as often the models themselves didn’t work. This is research we’re talking about.

    Climate research is inherently different in this respect. It is the application of theory to a particular model and assessing the results of the outputs of such models. What I am saying here, and you continue to be unable to refute, is that if one does not understand the uncertainty in the data used to make such assessments, how does one know if the models really work?

    Such uncertainties, in the form of errors, must be properly propagated to completely understand the implications of outputs from such models. Since there is no control on the vast majority of data for this purpose, paleological or not, it is very hard to assess uncertainties. Given that, how does one come to the conclusion, scientifically, that we are playing with the fate of the world?

    There seems to be a logical jump being made here that is not taken lightly in other fields but is acceptable with respect to this issue because of it’s grave importance. There are two main problems with such an approach.

    First, because we don’t have well-conditioned data one can’t completely assess the outputs of these models as true or not. This I will keep repeating until you can provide the uncertainties associated with measurements like those of CO2 from tree rings from thousands of years ago. Is it plus/minus 50, 80 or 500 ppm? It would be nice to have some sources for the calculations of such uncertainties.

    Second, if the climate is as sensitive as these models would lead us to believe, then we must be extraordinarily careful with our response to warming. By not knowing exactly what is happening and simply acting on what we know now can create unforeseeable problems with more uncertainties. The analogy of the car driving in the fog near a cliff is apt, except that there are 50,000 pedals, 49,999 of them accelerate the car and only one is the brake. Are we really going to just slam on them randomly given what we know at this point?

    It has also come to my attention that a very simple model has been produced, only two phases, in a paper that was published a little over a year ago. Here is the link to the pdf. The researchers show that such a climate system, very simple mind you, will display a ‘memory’ of the forcings. This is known as hysteresis and is how most magnets are made these days. So even if we reduce carbon in the atmosphere, the temperature might stay the same.

    As for the quip about bloggers, they bother me too. It’s unfortunate, however, that your comment reflects much more on your standing in the conversation than my own. As of tomorrow, I will be a PhD candidate in the Applied Physics Program at the University of Michigan.

    More than that, my work is on the interaction of light with matter, which may be of some use with respect to this issue. On top of that even, Professor Marc Ross who is an environmental physicist here at UM served on my qualifying exam committee asking me several questions on this topic ranging from simple to very complex. He also told me, point blank, that is has been very, very hard for anyone to say exactly what is causing what we see in terms of warming on this planet.

    It may serve you well, since your work is with computers seems to be overwhelming your take on this topic, to open your mind’s eye to what some people who work with physical systems have to say. Again, I will most certainly express that there is a great deal about this that I don’t understand. But the questions about data used to assess these models are very simple and you seem rather persistent in ignoring them and lambasting me as some ignorant person. That is unfortunate. It really says much more about you than me.

  15. #15 Ian Forrester
    July 9, 2009

    Mmm Aaron sounded quite reasonable (lots of big words in the correct order at least, not like some other deniers who have trouble with English syntax) till it all fell apart when he said:

    “This I will keep repeating until you can provide the uncertainties associated with measurements like those of CO2 from tree rings from thousands of years ago. Is it plus/minus 50, 80 or 500 ppm? It would be nice to have some sources for the calculations of such uncertainties”.

    WOW, a whole new discipline, CO2 concentrations from tree rings:-) Were they found frozen in the ice cores by any chance?

  16. #16 coby
    July 9, 2009

    Aaron:

    Congratulations on becoming a PhD candidate and I trust Professor Ross is an intelligent and educated man, but if this information is offered to give authority to your views, I think we would have to defer to the expertise of these folks. Myself, I have never claimed any authority of my own, nor do I offer my own personal theories or conclusions (at least not intentionally and not on the major points). I merely try to communicate what the latest scientific information is. I don`t mind opining, I am a blogger after all, but I do insist that we get the facts straight.

    You are clearly arguing from a great deal of ignorance, and therefore from a different set of “facts”. I highly recommend that you get yourself familiar with the latest IPCC report. You would also do well to check out the link I offered to Weart`s history of global warming. Did you yet?

    About what models are or not I must insist that you do not own the word, nor do I, and it has it own definitions independent of your or my intended meaning. I will be clear and tell you that when I say model in the comments above I mean a physical, mathematical, or logical representation of a system of entities, phenomena, or processes. I consider e = mc^2 to be a model. I am happy to revisit our modeling meta discussion above if you reread what I wrote with that definition in mind. If you wish to shift the topic to another kind of model please be specific and we can start again.

    Regarding your objections to data used to feed or verify GCM`s please be specific. Exactly what data are you thinking of and exactly what is wrong with it. I have to agree with Ian that your confusion about tree rings betrays an ignorance of this material that is not well matched to the strength of your apparent convictions. The same goes for other issues you are raising, you are giving us very broad characterizations and nothing specific to examine!

    (Side note: we are in the comments section here and you are dialoguing with more than one person. It is not clear to me who “you” is referring to above.)

  17. #17 Aaron Rury
    July 9, 2009

    Ian,

    it is a wonderful thing when someone makes an accusation that they can neither backup nor even bother to check themselves.

    You might be interested in this PNAS (that stands for Proceedings of the National Academy) article. In it the authors detail the importance of tree rings given that some species can live thousands of years (bristlecone pines et al.) There is also no discussion of uncertainties in this paper.

    And all I had to do was Google “CO2 Tree Rings” to get that. Google is very useful for information. You might want to look into using it.

    I would also not like to be given the moniker ‘denier’ seeing that at no point have I mentioned that global warming is not happening. It is most certainly happening. I merely disputing the presentation that it is scientific fact garnered from the scientific method, as applied in other fields including my own, that CO2 is the most responsible forcing. Maybe you could come up with a more fitting negative description of my position that actually reflects that reality of our situation rather than ignoring it.

  18. #18 Ian Forresteer
    July 9, 2009

    Aaron Rury, please re-read that PNAS paper you quoted. I did read it and it does not say what you are claiming. The majority of the researchers who looked for a CO2 effect on tree rings did not find such a relationship. The only “scientist” who did find one was Idso. Have you ever heard of him? He is one of the more notorious “scientists” who are typical deniers. He has a web site (CO2science, but I’m sure you know that)) which is full of dishonest comment, misinformation, cherry picking and other examples of scientific malfeasance. If you don’t want to be called a denier I suggest you broaden your list of sources for quality information on climate science.

    I hope you are more careful and honest with your own graduate work, I would have very harsh words for anyone who reported in a thesis what you just did with that PNAS paper. That could be considered scientific misconduct but at the very least shows that you are not very careful in your interpretations of scientific results.

  19. #19 dhogaza
    July 10, 2009

    But what Newton came up with is not a model.

    It is a theory.

    it’s both, and physicists know it. For another example of “both” look up “Standard Model”.

    Good luck correcting them …

    And, yes, I understand what was done during the Manhattan Project. The development of the hydrogen bomb was much more grounded in computer implementations of models of nuclear physics than the earlier fission bombs, but this was mostly due to the rapid increase in the speed of computation and the more limited ability to do lab experiments on fusion. Still, the models implemented and computed on mechanical calculators and later in the project when making the two fission bomb designs, very early electronic computers, were extremely useful.

    Remember, they didn’t bother testing Little Boy.

    Also, climate scientists do run experiments using their models, you can lie about it until you’re blue in the fact, but it won’t make your lie true.

    It may serve you well, since your work is with computers seems to be overwhelming your take on this topic, to open your mind’s eye to what some people who work with physical systems have to say

    I do. Atmospheric and solar physicists are very active in the climate science community. Why should I ignore them and pay attention to people who aren’t specialists in the field?
    Why would I expect some random applied physics prof to know more than they do? Why would I expect a freshly-minted undergraduate (you) to know more than they do?

  20. #20 Aaron Rury
    July 11, 2009

    On the seemingly-ever confusing notion of a ‘model’, I will say this. Equations are MATHEMATICAL models of a physical system that allows us to understand how different physical parameters affect each other. Newton’s laws or Maxwell’s equations are great examples of this type of model.

    In science research, such mathematical models are applied to scientific models like climate models, that also use math in some contexts, but there is an inherent difference. When the laws of physics are applied to a scientific model, we already know the parametric dependencies in the physical system. We just want to know how those dependencies mean TO THAT SYSTEM IN PARTICULAR. A good example of this is the standard model, which does not necessitate new dependencies between particles other than QED, but gives us a coherent picture of how different particles can be divided up with respect to similarities and differences. So I would say that climate models are a SCIENTIFIC model as opposed to a MATHEMATICAL model, despite the fact that impressive amounts of math used in such models. Can we all agree on this assessment?

    Ian,

    You seem to be misunderstanding the argument the PNAS paper provides with respect to your comments. You implied that my previous comment concerning the lack of well-understood uncertainty in tree ring research was inconsequential since such research doesn’t exist. The citation of the paper merely provides proof that it does exist. The fact that this particular paper is more critical of such a technique is neither here nor there. It is simply the fact that the research exists. Some researchers, not all of them can be named in such a publication, do find what they interpret as a connection between tree growth and CO2 concentrations. My simple question is, ‘what’s the uncertainty associated with such measurements?’. Why don’t we stick to one argument at a time rather putting words in my mouth?

    Coby,

    I admit that it is very hard for me to keep up with all the ‘data’ that is used to check the output of models. The one example that comes to my mind is from chapter 6 of ‘Statistical Analysis in Climate Research’ where the authors discuss signal processing in general and applying such rules to the CO2 signal. You check out most of the chapter on Google scholar. But the analysis of this research points out that the big systematic problem is the lack of a true ‘control’ regime. In describing how researchers get around this fact, the authors point out there is no method which can be reliably applied. So I don’t think it is necessary to make a table of the different data and why each one of them has issues. They all seem to have the same issue of being ill-conditioned with respect to an unknown uncertainty that is very difficult to properly propagate error in these climate models.

    The fact that you bring up my ‘convictions’, again, I think only serves to further cloud this discussion. My simple conviction is that there should be a strict application of the scientific method to produce scientific information. That means models have a place next to theory and experiment in importance, and not above them simply because all we can do is scientifically model our climate. I have a similar skepticism of ideas like string theory although there is a community of researchers who push its importance. It just doesn’t seem like science if they can’t tell us experimentalists how to prove or disprove the theory’s implications.

    dhogaza,

    Newton laws are a mathematical model. I will agree with such an idea. But climate models are SCIENTIFIC models which are, in their nature, very different from the Newtonian laws they use to ‘make’ data. I think you need to better appreciate this difference.

    That you are willing to distrust my opinion and frame my knowledge as ‘undergraduate’ despite the fact I graduate 6 years ago and have done research since is not shedding the best light on your position. Also, one doesn’t gain PhD candidacy right out of undergrad. Why bring up such things if you have such a strong argument? Just explain the answers to the questions I have posed. Ultimately, is the push of this plan to just destroy the reputation of those who disagree with you?

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