JASON arrives

Do you ever have the experience of a book you've bought from abe or ebay turning up, and you can't remember why you bought it? I got "The long-term impacts of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide" by MacDonald today (The Long-term Impacts of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels, By Gordon James MacDonald, Published by Ballinger, 1982, ISBN 088410902X, 9780884109020, 252 pages) , and thought "hmm thats interesting, but why *this* book?". Now I'm at home, I can find the answer: its really the JASON report. Aha.

So how does it shape up? Well of course what I've done is a very quick browse through to see how it compares to Nierenberg, in particular I'll compare it to what Brian picked out, namely exec summary 20(b) "We do not believe, however, that the evidence to hand about CO2-induced cliamte change would support steps to change current fuel-use patterns...". This appears to be the best support we can find for Oreskes idea that the Nierenberg report was dangerously reactionary, after the truth-and-light from JASON.

JASONs (sorry, I'm going to call it JASON, not MacDonald et al.) overview conclusions (p13) include There exists a number of means by which the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide can be slowed if this becomes a desirable goal. [1]. Hmmm... weeeelll... *if* this *becomes* a desirable goal: a clear implication there that it isn't currently a desirable goal. If that had been in Nierenberg, Oreskes would have jumped on it.

Oh, just for fun, we also have In principle, carbon dioxide can be removed from stack gas for deep ocean disposal or deposited in old oil and gas fields. However, elementary considerations suggest that neither of these suggestions are economical in comparison with alternative, nuclear or solar, energy systems.

It continues: The potential changes to the world posed by altering the composition of the atmosphere appear substantial enough to justify a comprehensive research effort designed to reduce the many uncertainties discussed here. Which again carries the clear implication that although research was jsutified, action wasn't, then.

It gets better in the preface... I suppose I should have started there but one often skips prefaces. xviii: There are numerous uncertainties about the direction and magnitude of anticipated changes. The benefits and costs of these changes to society will depend on the timing and magnitude of the changes and the appropriateness of human responses. Significant uncertainties exist... The uncertainties are great enough to suggest that now is not the proper moment to undertake far-reaching actions designed to mitigate potential effects of increasing CO2.

In other words, you can't tell the JASON and Nierenberg reports apart. OCS is nonsense.

[Thanks to those who have pointed out that N was an author of the JASON report (one of 14 in fact). It makes no difference, of course.]

Related: Book club: Nierenberg. Part II: Future CO2; Book club: Nierenberg. Part I: introduction; From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming, and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge by Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway and Matthew Shindell; Last Word on Oreskes, Chicken Little by Atmoz. And of course Nicolas Nierenberg's site.


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"Who was responsible for the [statements above]? The evidence suggests that it was Bill Nierenberg." {fact}

[? You think N nobbled the JASON report? -W]

Wow I'm kind of embarrassed. We wrote that whole critique, and I missed that from the preface of the JASON report. I was focused on refuting the nonsensical idea that Nierenberg was responsible for the quote that OCS grabbed. "The warming of the climate would not necessarily lead to better living conditions everywhere."

I assume Atmoz was being sarcastic. Although Nierenberg was a co-author on the paper.

[As I read it (and it was some time ago, OCS pretty well nailed their colours to the mast over "JASON good, Nierenberg '83 bad" so I think they are obliged to accept anything in the JASON report, and not to try to wriggle out -W]

The preface is indistinguishable from 20(b). The 'there exists means if becomes desirable' is more wishy-washy then 20(b), but I guess it leans slightly in that direction.

I wouldn't be too casual about who authored/approved the preface though, could be an interesting question.

Since I know nothing about JASON, the point I focused on was whether 20(b) was supported by the other chapters besides the synthesis. This info about JASON raises a different critique of OCS though, and it'll be interesting to hear the response.

Yes, it has been discussed many times on these threads, and in our critique that Nierenberg was a co-author on the JASON report. But MacDonald was the lead author, and Oreskes et al go through great lengths to play up that he was part of the emerging consensus on the need for action.

Oreskes et al. provide no evidence that Nierenberg was responsible for any particular part of the JASON report and he was well down the list of authors. Once again the obvious explanation is that these types of statements did represent the consensus view at the time.

Mr. Schmidt, of course 20b was supported by the other chapters, but these were mainly the chapters written by the economists who Oreskes et al. claim were in league with Nierenberg. No evidence for this of course, but that's what they say.

For what it is worth here is the conclusion of the Charney report which Oreskes et al. say defined the consensus along with the JASON report.

"To summarize, we have tried but have been unable to find any overlooked or underestimated physical effects that could reduce the currently estimated global warmings due to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 to negligible proportions or reverse them altogether. However, we believe it quite possible that the capacity of the intermediate waters of the oceans to absorb heat could delay the estimated warming by several decades. It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be signficant, but unfortunately the latter cannot yet be adequately projected."

The short version is, it will get warmer but maybe later than we thought. This could pose problems, but we can't say for sure.

"Mr. Schmidt, of course 20b was supported by the other chapters"

My question is where else in the report besides the synthesis does it make the same policy conclusion. Chapter 2 doesn't (apparently), so does Chapter 9 say it?

I suppose I'm straying off-topic since this isn't JASON I'm talking about....

I don't know if the chapter 9 explicitly says anything about policy, but in general terms it supports it. The policy recommendations would be from the whole committee that is why supporting it from the synthesis is fine.

I'm sorry -- I wasn't keeping up either. I'd read only Oreskes' Times article and hadn't known about the technical report in the link above. The lead author on the Jason reports is generally the Jason who was in charge of getting the study done. The rest of the author list may or may not be in alphabetical order -- Jasons are neither hierarchical nor tidy -- so someone's place on that list doesn't say much about his/her contributions to the study. That's nearly everything I know about this subject. I was always sorry I never really interviewed Bill Nierenberg; he'd died just before I began working on the book.

By Ann Finkbeiner (not verified) on 01 Oct 2008 #permalink

Mr. Connolley would you mind putting our critique on the list of related items to this post? Just looking for equal time with Dr. Oreskes' nonsense :-)

[Done -W]

You think N nobbled the JASON report?
Not sure what nobbled means, but I don't think so. I think OCS was trying to find a beginning to the story of climate change denial. They found the N report, saw that it was 'skeptical' of solutions to the CO2 problems, but failed to realize how similar it was to the Jason report, and how N's summary did accurately summarize the individual chapters. The comment above was an unsourced quote from OCS. It was meant to show that, using the methods of OCS, N could also have influenced your quotes in the OP, however unlikely.

I want to thank all of you for the time that you spent looking into this. In particular thanks to Mr. Connolley and Atmoz for getting the report itself.

I think that truth and scholarship matter, and I have seen that many agree with that.

I did put a protest into the British Press office over the story in the Times. They have informed me that they still have no reply. As I mentioned on another thread several people tried to post responses on the Times reply area, but none appeared. I note that Mr. Mashburne's post was promptly put up.

We are currently working on a response to the published version of what you call OCS. It is not different in substance but a few things have been moved around.

""To summarize, we have tried but have been unable to find any overlooked or underestimated physical effects that could reduce the currently estimated global warmings due to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 to negligible proportions or reverse them altogether."

Hm. Was there any mention of trying to find any overlooked or underestimated physical effects that could _increase_ the then estimated global warmings? Things like reducing sulfates, or methane outgassing events?

As quoted, it sounds like they report they tried to find a way to say the problem was negligible -- and that they failed.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 06 Oct 2008 #permalink

FWIW, "the currently estimated global warmings" were omitted as late as 1997 from the National Intelligence Council's "Global Trends" document anticipating the world of 2010:

I have no idea if the authors overlap. Curious if anyone knows.

I came across discussion of the entire series here:

The December 2000 document focusing on 2015 does mention global warming:

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 07 Oct 2008 #permalink

it sounds like they report they tried to find a way to say the problem was negligible


By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 08 Oct 2008 #permalink

BTW, Nicolas Nierenberg asked (by implication) in an earlier thread how/whether one could objectively assess the relative influence within the scientific community of the Jason, Charney, and Nierenberg reports; so I thought I'd try using Google Scholar to find out how many citations each has had.

The results of my searches seem to back up the statement of my source that the Charney report was a lot more influential than the other two, although it seems to me that Google must be underestimating the number of citations that the Charney report has received, given how influential I know it to have been. Anyway here are my search results (I hope I did the searches correctly?):

1) Charney report (properly Charney et al, 1979): 37 citations.

2) "Jason report" (properly McDonald et al, 1980): 20 citations.

3) "Nierenberg Report" ( (I'm not sure of the proper way of referring to it): 12 citations.

It would be interesting to know whether ISI WoS gets significantly different results to Google (I don't have access to it).


[Thats sci citations of course. One could also wonder about its political influence, which would be measured differently -W]

Nice to see the discussion still going :-)

It is just my opinion but I think that the Charney conclusion was phrased that way because it was how the issue was viewed at the time. Everyone understood that CO2 was a positive forcing, but there was a lot of discussion about what the feedbacks might be. Some had proposed that they were negative in total and that they would cancel out the forcing. Charney concluded that they couldn't find any evidence of this. As good scientists, they recognized the fact that just because they hadn't found sufficient negative feedbacks to offset the warming didn't mean that they could rule them out.

As to the citations, there is an apples to oranges nature of comparing Charney, JASON, and Changing Climate. Since each chapter of Changing Climate was a separately peer reviewed report I have found that they were cited as separate documents on some occassions. An easy one to find is the chapter by Nordhaus and Yohe which has been cited 26 times. The Revelle chapter has been cited 68 times. Those are two examples.

This is all according to Google Scholar. I'm not sure how accurate those citation counts are, but I did check a small sample to see that those chapters were indeed cited.

For an interesting look at the consensus discussion circa 1982 take a look at my blog. I put up some comments about more errors in Oreskes et al. 2008 in regards to a letter that John Perry wrote in 1982. At the end of the post you can read the scanned copy of the letter. Of course I could have just put the link to the letter here, but then you wouldn't have to go look at my blog :-).