NOTE: This will be a “sticky” top post for awhile, new posts appear below this one. UPDATE: Josh weighs in with a new cartoon.
I was hoping to have a quiet holiday weekend away from WUWT doing some household chores. Apparently that isn’t in the cards.
Below, I have reposted an essay from Dr. Roger Pielke Senior regarding an opinion piece published in The Daily Climate attacking Dr. John Christy and Dr. Roy Spencer for their ongoing work in satellite based measurement of the Earth’s temperature. Dr. Pielke does an excellent job of summarizing his rebuttal points, and I’ll point out that he’s used some very strong unconventional language in the title of his piece.
One point Dr. Pielke touches on related to an orbital decay correction applied to the UAH satellite measurement comes from his first hand experience, and I urge readers to read it fully to get the history. One line from the op-ed in The Daily Climate bothered me in particular:
Over the years, Spencer and Christy developed a reputation for making serial mistakes that other scientists have been forced to uncover.
This my friends, is breathtaking for its sheer arrogance, agenda, and the scuttling of the scientific process in one sentence.
The entire process of science is about building on early incomplete knowledge with new knowledge, and discarding old knowledge in favor of new evidence that is better understood and supported by observational evidence. All scientists make mistakes, it is part of the learning process of science. Any scientist who believes he/she hasn’t made mistakes, has never made a correction, or hasn’t built upon the mistakes of others to improve the science is deluding themselves.
And that crack about “…mistakes that other scientists have been forced to uncover.” is ludicrous. By the very nature of the scientific process, scientists work to uncover flaws in the work of others, and when mistakes and irrelevancies are burned away by this process, what is left in the crucible of scientific inquiry is regarded as the pure product.
I could say the same thing about GISS related to Hansen and Gavin’s Y2K temperature problem which required a correction, also something other scientists were “forced to uncover”.
Even Einstein made mistakes, from Physics Today in 2005 Einstein’s Mistakes by Steven Weinberg:
In thinking of Einstein’s mistakes, one immediately recalls what Einstein (in a conversation with George Gamow2) called the biggest blunder he had made in his life: the introduction of the cosmological constant. After Einstein had completed the formulation of his theory of space, time, and gravitation—the general theory of relativity—he turned in 1917 to a consideration of the spacetime structure of the whole universe. He then encountered a problem. Einstein was assuming that, when suitably averaged over many stars, the universe is uniform and essentially static, but the equations of general relativity did not seem to allow a time-independent solution for a universe with a uniform distribution of matter. So Einstein modified his equations, by including a new term involving a quantity that he called the cosmological constant. Then it was discovered that the universe is not static, but expanding. Einstein came to regret that he had needlessly mutilated his original theory. It may also have bothered him that he had missed predicting the expansion of the universe.
For those reading who are prone to eye rolling, I would never presume to compare anyone in climate science to Einstein, but there’s an important and germane science history lesson here worth noting that parallels what has happened with the Spencer and Braswell paper challenging climate models and climate sensitivity.
Consider Edwin Hubble’s discovery of an expanding universe based on observational evidence. Einstein created a mathematical model of the universe, and as Wikipedia reports: Earlier, in 1917, Albert Einstein had found that his newly developed theory of general relativity indicated that the universe must be either expanding or contracting. Unable to believe what his own equations were telling him, Einstein introduced a cosmological constant (a “fudge factor“) to the equations to avoid this “problem”.
Einstein didn’t launch a tirade in the press. Instead, Einstein was humble enough to consider that he’d made a mistake and modified his mathematical model to fit the new observation. He later came to regret the cosmological constant, but it demonstrates his ability to assimilate new observational evidence.
Like Spencer and Braswell, Einstein too got his share of public drubbing for his work. Hitler commissioned a group of 100 top scientists in Germany write a book called “Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein” (Hundred authors against Einstein).
Einstein was asked: `Doesn’t it bother you Dr Einstein that you’ve got so many scientists against you?’
And he said: `It doesn’t take 100 scientists to prove me wrong, it takes a single fact’. Source
And that is the way of science. Opinions don’t matter, certificates, awards, and accolades don’t matter. Only the provable evidence matters. In the case of Spencer and Braswell, they too bring observational evidence to bear that may require adjustments to mathematical models. The difference here has been that rather than take the path of reconsideration, and arguing using the science following the peer review process, Abraham, Gleick, and Trenberth ignore that process and resort to a diatribe of ad hominem attacks, which in my opinion with that one sentence referencing to “…serial mistakes that other scientists have been forced to uncover.”, crosses the threshold from argument to libel.
Apparently, it is impossible for them to consider observational evidence supporting a lower climate sensitivity, and thus they’ve scuttled the scientific process of correcting and building on new knowledge in favor of a tabloid style attack.
Clearly, Abraham, Gleick, and Trenberth share none of the humble virtue demonstrated by Einstein.
Here’s Dr. Pielke’s essay:
Hatchet Job On John Christy and Roy Spencer By Kevin Trenberth, John Abraham and Peter Gleick
There is an opinion article at Daily Climate that perpetuates serious misunderstandings regarding the research of Roy Spencer and John Christy. It also is an inappropriate (and unwarranted) person attack on their professional integrity. Since I have first hand information on this issue, I am using my weblog to document the lack of professional decorum by Keven Trenberth, John Abraham and Peter Gleick.
The inappropriate article I am referring to is
published on the Daily Climate on September 2 2011. The article is by Kevin Trenberth, John Abraham, and Peter Gleick.
Their headline reads
In his bid to cast doubts on the seriousness of climate change, University of Alabama’s Roy Spencer creates a media splash but claims a journal’s editor-in-chief.
The science doesn’t hold up.
I am reproducing the text of the article below with my comments inserted.
The text of their article starts with [highlights added]
The widely publicized paper by Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell, published in the journal Remote Sensing in July, has seen a number of follow-ups and repercussions.
Unfortunately this is not the first time the science conducted by Roy Spencer and colleagues has been found lacking. The latest came Friday in a remarkable development, when the journal’s editor-in-chief, Wolfgang Wagner, submitted his resignation and apologized for the paper.
As we noted on RealClimate.org when the paper was published, the hype surrounding Spencer’s and Braswell’s paper was impressive; unfortunately the paper itself was not. Remote Sensing is a fine journal for geographers, but it does not deal much with atmospheric and climate science, and it is evident that this paper did not get an adequate peer review. It should have received an honest vetting.
The claim that a journal on remote sensing, which publishes paper on the climate system “but…does not deal much with atmospheric and climate science”, is not climate science is obviously incorrect. This trivialization of the journal in this manner illustrates the inappropriately narrow view of the climate system by the authors. That the paper “should have received an honest vetting”, I assume means that they or their close colleagues should have reviewed it (and presumably recommended rejection).
The Trenberth et al text continues
Friday that truth became apparent. Kevin Trenberth received a personal note of apology from both the editor-in-chief and the publisher of Remote Sensing. Wagner took this unusual and admirable step after becoming aware of the paper’s serious flaws. By resigning publicly in an editorial posted online, Wagner hopes that at least some of this damage can be undone.
My son has posted on this (see). I agree; for Kevin Trenberth to receive an apology is quite bizarre.
Their text continues
Unfortunately this is not the first time the science conducted by Roy Spencer and colleagues has been found lacking.
Spencer, a University of Alabama, Huntsville, climatologist, and his colleagues have a history of making serious technical errors in their effort to cast doubt on the seriousness of climate change. Their errors date to the mid-1990s, when their satellite temperature record reportedly showed the lower atmosphere was cooling. As obvious and serious errors in that analysis were made public, Spencer and Christy were forced to revise their work several times and, not surprisingly, their findings agree better with those of other scientists around the world: the atmosphere is warming.
This statement of the history is a fabrication and is an ad hominem attack. The errors in their analysis were all minor and were identified as soon as found. Such corrections are a normal part of the scientific process as exemplified recently in the finding of a substantial error in the ERA-40 reanalysis;
Screen, James A., Ian Simmonds, 2011: Erroneous Arctic Temperature Trends in the ERA-40 Reanalysis: A Closer Look. J. Climate, 24, 2620–2627. doi: 10.1175/2010JCLI4054.1.
My direct experience with the UAH-MSU data analysis has been over more than a decade. I will share two examples here of the rigor with which they assess and correct, when needed, their analyses.
First, at one of the CCSP 1.1 committee meetings that I attended [for the report Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences (in Chicago)], an error was brought to the attention of Roy Spencer and John Christy by the lead investigators of the RSS MSU project (Mears and Wentz).
The venue at which this error was brought up (in our committee meeting) was a clear attempt to discredit John and Roy’s research as we sat around the table. Roy found a fix within a few minutes, and concluded it was minor. This fix was implemented when he returned to Alabama.
When I saw how this “exposure” of an error was presented (in front of all of us, instead of in private via e-mail or phone call), I became convinced that a major goal of this committee (under the leadership of Tom Karl) was to discredit them. I told John this at a break right after this occurred. At a later meeting (in December 2008),
I explicitly saw Tom Karl disparage the Christy and Spencer research.
In order to further examine the robustness of the Christy and Spencer analyses, in 2006 I asked Professor Ben Herman, who is an internationally well-respect expert in atmospheric remote sensing, to examine the Christy and Spencer UAH MSU and the Wentz and Mears RSS MSU data analyses. He worked with a student to do this and completed the following study
Randall, R. M., and B. M. Herman (2007), Using Limited Time Period Trends as a Means to Determine Attribution of Discrepancies in Microwave Sounding Unit Derived Tropospheric Temperature Time Series, J. Geophys. Res., doi:10.1029/2007JD008864
which includes the finding that
“Comparison of MSU data with the reduced Radiosonde Atmospheric Temperature Products for Assessing Climate radiosonde data set indicates that RSS’s method (use of climate model) of determining diurnal effects is likely overestimating the correction in the LT channel. Diurnal correction signatures still exist in the RSS LT time series and are likely affecting the long-term trend with a warm bias.”
The robustness of the UAH MSU [the Christy and Spencer analysis] is summarized in the text
“Figure 5 shows that 10-year trends center on the mid-1994’s through 10 year trends centered on the mid-1995’s indicates the RSS−Sonde trends are significantly different from zero where the Sonde−UAH trends are not. In addition, for 10-year trends centered on late-1999 through 10- years trend centered on early 2000 the RSS−Sonde trends are significantly different from zero where Sonde−UAH are marginally not. Another key feature in the RSS−Sonde series is the rapid departure in trend magnitude from trends centered on 1995 through trends centered on late-1999 where the Sonde−UAH magnitude in trends is nearly constant. These features are consistent with the diurnal correction signatures previously discussed. These findings [in] the RSS method for creating the diurnal correction (use of a climate model) is [the] cause for discrepancies between RSS and UAH databases in the LT channel.”
The latest Trenberth et al article is a continuation of this ad hominem effort to discredit John Christy and Roy Spencer.
The Trenberth et al article continues
Over the years, Spencer and Christy developed a reputation for making serial mistakes that other scientists have been forced to uncover. Last Thursday, for instance, the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres published a study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate scientist Ben Santer. Their findings showed that Christy erred in claiming that recent atmospheric temperature trends are not replicated in models.
This trend continues: On Tuesday the journal Geophysical Research Letters will publish a peer-reviewed study by Texas A&M University atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler that undermines Spencer’s arguments about the role of clouds in the Earth’s energy budget.
We only wish the media would cover these scientific discoveries with similar vigor and enthusiasm that they displayed in tackling Spencer’s now-discredited findings.
Roy Spencer is hardly discredited because there are papers that disagree with his analysis and conclusions. This will sort itself out in the peer-reviewed literature after he has an opportunity to respond with a follow on paper, and/or a Comment/Reply exchange. Similarly, John Christy can respond to the Santer et al paper that is referred to in the Trenberth et al article.
What is disturbing, however, in the Trenberth et al article is its tone and disparagement of two outstanding scientists. Instead of addressing the science issues, they resort to statements such as Spencer and Christy making “serial mistakes”. This is truly a hatchet job and will only further polarize the climate science debate